February 18, 2003
A provision in a federal spending bill that would allow Norwegian Cruise Lines' foreign-flagged ships to bypass the Jones Act is under progress. The law, which has now been passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate, as part of the Omnibus Appropriations Act, would allow NCL, particularly for its Norwegian Star, which is the only ship to sail year-round weekly round trips from Honolulu, to adhere to U.S. laws -- just as if its ships were flagged American.
NCL which recently acquired a $2 million incomplete hull and ship parts from a shipyard in Mississippi -- part of a failed $187 million plan (with $1 billion in federal loan guarantees) to jump-start an otherwise non-existant U.S. cruise line shipbuilding program -- had asked for American status in that region. Those partially built ships (and parts) have been sent to Europe for completion.
The bill, expected to be received into law when President Bush signs it, would give NCL alone -- the domestic rights otherwise not offered to foreign flagged carriers. In return, NCL's affected ships would agree to pay U.S. taxes, hire U.S. crew and follow American labor laws.
How will this affect cruise passengers bound for Hawaii in short- and long-terms? When queried, an NCL spokeswoman was able only to speak in the vaguest of terms: "We can tell you that the provision will allow us to considerably expand our existing range of offerings in Hawaii and any plans we have will include Fanning Island, as we have invested quite a bit of money in the island's infrastructure."
She adds, "These U.S.-flag operations (including American crew) will provide a boost for Hawaii tourism, generate more than $800 million in economic benefits for Hawaii and the U.S., and create more than 20,000 U.S. jobs, including some 7000 landside jobs and 3000 seafaring jobs for Hawaii residents."