Two Presidents – Grover Cleveland & Joe Biden – & How Each Played A Role In Alaska Cruises

In 1886, President Grover Cleveland, trying to protect American jobs, signed something called the Passenger Vessel Services Act.  Long Ago, ...

In 1886, President Grover Cleveland, trying to protect American jobs, signed something called the Passenger Vessel Services Act. 

Long Ago, A U.S. President Thought He Had A Very Good Idea 

Grover Cleveland (Wikipedia) 

Under the act that Grover Cleveland signed so many decades ago, only boats that were "U.S. flagged" could travel from one American port to another without stopping at another country in between. In other words, from that time onward, if a boat started out on the West Coast and went to Alaska – and it was a foreign-flagged ship – it would have to stop in Canada along the way.

This U.S. law, which has stayed in effect for over 100 years, has begun to cause a real headache for cruise travel to our state. Most cruise ships are “foreign flagged.”

That’s because those big cruise ships we consider "American" are not American at all. They're actually often foreign-built. And they don't sail under the American flag. They sail the flags of a number of other countries. (This includes Princess cruises as well as Disney cruises and many others.) 

As foreign vessels, Alaska's large cruise ships have always fallen under Passenger Vessel Services Act restrictions – which is why they have always stopped along the way to Alaska at a Canadian port. 

This year, however, Alaskan cruise ships were crippled up and sidelined. They were hampered by two very unusual circumstances. The first was the coronavirus epidemic, which had some of its worst episodes in the early days in two crowded spaces: nursing homes... and cruise ships

The second problem, specific to Alaska, was Grover Cleveland's long-ago law. The cruises butted up against the general cautiousness of the Canadian people  

Canadians, faced with the Passenger Vessel Services Act that our country has had in place all these years, just said "no" to American cruises stopping at their ports for no other reason than to comply with a century-old U.S. law that was instituted by a forgotten U.S. president. The Canadians' goal wasn't necessarily mean or selfish; it was their country's effort to keep down the transmission of disease. 

A Second President Steps Up 

Joe Biden with Dan Sullivan, Lisa Murkowski & Don Young. (White House) 

On Monday, May 24th, the current president, Joe Biden, urged on by Alaska's Republican congressional delegation, signed a temporary workaround to the law that Grover Cleveland made. It's called the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, and was signed in a private ceremony with Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, along with Alaska Representative Don Young. 

As a result, for now, large foreign-flagged cruise ships will be allowed to come to Alaska directly from the U.S. West Coast, without stopping in Canada.

It's unclear exactly how long it'll take for the big cruise ships to crank up after being furloughed for so long – and what effect this will have on land-based tourism that is linked to the cruises, along Alaska's road system. But some people in the tourism industry, especially in Southeast Alaska, are hopeful there will be a benefit to the law this season. 


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