British Columbia

Cruise ships bound for Alaska set to bypass B.C. this summer after U.S. Senate vote

The U.S. Senate voted this week on a bill that would see Alaska-bound cruise ships sail past B.C. this summer, but the province says the ships will return once borders reopen.

B.C. says cruise ship travel will resume once pandemic restrictions are lifted

The 2019 cruise season saw 288 cruise ships dock in Vancouver. Travel is set to resume once pandemic restrictions are lifted. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Alaska-bound cruise ships will again be docking in B.C waters once federal travel restrictions are lifted, according to the government of B.C, but U.S. cruise ships will be bypassing B.C. until then.

In an effort to save Alaska's summer cruise season, the U.S. Senate passed a bill Thursday which, if also approved by the House of Representatives, allows Alaska-bound ships to travel directly between the State of Washington and Alaska.

Before the pandemic and under the Passenger Vessel Services Act, Alaska-bound ships would have to spend a day in Vancouver or Victoria, bringing in significant tourism revenue to B.C.'s economy.

The Alaska Tourism Recovery Act was introduced as a way to sidestep Canadian restrictions against cruise ship travel between the two states for the upcoming summer season.

In a statement to CBC, the province says the legislation is clear that the changes would automatically be rescinded once Canadian ports are reopened to cruise ships. 

"This means that as soon as Canadian ports are ready to welcome cruise ships again, they will be required by U.S. law to stop here on their way to Alaska, even if the current bill becomes law," according to the ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport.

In February, Canada extended a ban on cruise ships until at least 2022, but those restrictions could be reversed if pandemic conditions improve enough to allow the resumption of cruising.

"Our government has been relentless in our advocacy to the federal government to support and defend B.C.'s tourism industry and all the people, businesses and communities who depend on it," read the statement.

Before the pandemic, the cruise ship industry contributed more than $2.5 billion to B.C.'s economy. (The Canadian Press)

The province says Premier John Horgan has reached out to Alaska senators and will be meeting with them in the coming weeks to discuss the matter.

In April, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said passenger travel on cruise ships could resume by mid-July using a phased-in approach and passengers would be required to be fully vaccinated before boarding.

Frustration with Canada

The Alaska Tourism Recovery Act was introduced just weeks after U.S. politicians wrote a letter on behalf of Congress to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, expressing frustration with Canada's steps to limit foreign travel. 

"We were shocked by the decision announced by your government last week to extend the ban on cruise ships carrying over 100 passengers until Feb. 28, 2022," read the letter.

"We are particularly concerned that this decision was made without any forewarning to or consultation with Alaska, your neighbour and partner."

Before the pandemic, the cruise industry contributed an estimated $2.5 billion each year to British Columbia's economy.

The bill must still pass in the U.S. House of Representatives and then be signed by President Joe Biden.

Three cruise ships are seen docked in Victoria, B.C. in 2019. (Greater Vancouver Harbour Authority)

With files from Tanya Fletcher

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