(6 p.m. EDT) -- On Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden officially signed the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act into law, paving the way for cruises to restart to the Last Frontier directly from Seattle.
The Alaska Tourism Restoration Act breezed through Congress this month in a rare example of swift bipartisan approval. The bill, which was introduced by Alaskan Senators Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan and Representative Don Young, temporarily repeals the Passenger Vessel Services Act, or PVSA, and allows ships to sail directly to Alaska from Seattle without the need to stop in a Canadian port of call to satisfy cabotage laws.
"This is the first time that the Passenger Vessel Services Act has been touched in about 135 years," commented Young at a media briefing at the White House. "We feel great as a delegation we got it done in 10 days."
"They told us trying to work through the PVSA is near impossible. That this was not going to come together," said Murkowski, noting that the Alaska cruise season typically only runs between May and September. "What we were looking for was a very narrow fix to what would say is a very outdated bill. We could not give up because it was too important."
The Act is in place until February 2022, when Transport Canada's ban on cruise activity is set to expire. It is the first time in history that foreign-flagged cruise ships have been permitted to sail between U.S. ports of call without a stop in a "distant foreign port" prior to returning to the U.S. In the past, many Alaskan cruises either homeported in Vancouver or stopped for several hours in Victoria, British Columbia in order to satisfy U.S. cabotage laws.
Senator Sullivan laid into Canada during his remarks. The Government of Canada and the provincial British Columbia government and its leader, New Democrat John Horgan, have been accused by the opposition party of British Columbia of ignoring the Alaskan Delegation's requests for technical calls and putting British Columbia's cruise industry in jeopardy.
"The real issue was a third country was not being cooperative and was preventing American citizens from one state to visit another state," said Sullivan. "When the Canadians were saying, 'The Americans will never fix this', I think that motivated a lot of people, even beyond Alaska, to say, we're not going to let Canada dictate who can visit another state in America."
The Alaskan delegation had lobbied for cruise to return to Alaska following the economic devastation wrought on many parts of the state following the cancelled 2020 cruise season.
Now, with the signing of the Alaskan Tourism Restoration Act into law by President Biden, cruises are ready to resume to Alaska for the first time since the last vessel left the region in October 2019.
Though lines are still waiting on the official green light from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in order to set sail, numerous cruise line executives have publicly expressed confidence that approval is close.
Within hours of last week's announcement that the bill passed handily in the House, numerous cruise lines revealed plans for sailings to resume this summer from Seattle to Alaska. Lines currently planning to go include Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises.