Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Changes in US maritime law may mean tourism win fall for BC tourism, or perhaps a tourism crisis for the province

They’re a little anxious in Alaska these days as the US government considers changes to a 131 year old law that prohibits foreign-owned vessels from transporting passengers from one U.S. port to another without stopping at a foreign port in between.

In the past the procedure has been to spend a few hours in a BC port on the way to Alaskan waters, sometimes allowing the passengers to spend time in the port other times merely the “technical stop” where the vessel anchors in a harbour for a few hours before transiting further.

The new interpretation of those regulations would require the cruise lines to spend at least two days docked in a foreign port before they could proceed.

The potential changes have become quite controversial in Alaska where the tourism industry fears that the largely foreign dominated cruise fleets will begin to pull away completely from the Alaska circuit, causing some serious damage to an industry that has been built up over the last few decades.

Alaska has found a friend in the Yukon, which also fears that the proposed change will reduce tourism to the territory, a spin off benefit thanks to the territories close proximity to some of the key attractions in the Alaska tour circuit.

The issue came to the forefront at the request of the Hawaiian Islands tourism industry which is having a hard time competing with the foreign owned cruise lines, the US based lines out of the state are having their struggles with the foreign fleet and are looking for a bit of help from the federal government.

Alaska on the other hand is asking that the US government change the regulation to only be in effect for those ships that operate in Hawaiian waters.

It could have a major impact either way on the still developing cruise ship industry in Prince Rupert, if the changes go into effect two scenarios could come to pass.

The foreign fleet may just pull out of the area completely, taking Rupert off the port of call list along with the number of Alaskan ports that currently act as a draw.

Or they could abide by the terms and begin to spend more time in British Columbia, exploring the coastal waters of the province and spending more shore time in such locations as Campbell River, Nanaimo and Prince Rupert.

It’s a decision which we have no say in, but will feel an impact from one way or another, the tourist industry on the North Coast could be in for a change thanks to changes to an ancient mariner’s law that goes back almost as long as the province has been in confederation.

Yukon echoes Alaska's concerns over U.S. cruise ship proposal
Last Updated: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 7:59 PM CT
CBC News

Government leaders in the Yukon have joined a lobby to have the state of Alaska exempted from a proposed change in the interpretation of the Passenger Vessel Services Act they say will hurt their cruise-ship tourism industries.

Yukon and Alaskan officials are concerned with a U.S. federal proposal to change how the maritime act, created in 1886 as a way of ensuring a U.S. monopoly on passenger service between American ports, is interpreted.

The law prohibits foreign-owned vessels from transporting passengers from one U.S. port to another without stopping at a foreign port in between. Until now, most cruise lines have fulfilled the century-old requirement by making brief stops of a few hours only — at ports in Mexico or Canada, for example.

The new interpretation, introduced in November, would require all ships sailing under a foreign flag to spend at least two days docked at a foreign port.

"We have registered our concerns formally with the government of Canada, asking them to take up the issue with their respective counterparts [in the U.S.]," Yukon Tourism Minister Elaine Taylor told CBC News on Tuesday.

Hawaii had asked the U.S. government to strictly enforce the docking requirement, as that state's cruise-ship industry struggles with competition from foreign-based cruise lines.

The Hawaiian Islands are one of the few areas along the west coast where U.S.-flagged cruise ships operate. Most large cruise lines in west coast waters fly foreign flags.

Cruise company officials say if the new interpretation is accepted, Alaskan cruises that travel from Seattle would have to make 48-hour stops at ports in British Columbia, leaving them with little time to dock in Skagway, Juneau and elsewhere in southeastern Alaska en route to their final destination.

Town officials in Skagway say that could translate into 100 fewer cruise-ship sailings and 230,000 fewer tourists to the town this summer.

Skagway is connected to neighbouring Yukon by a highway, so Taylor said the effects of having fewer tourists would also be felt in the territory. The cruise industry accounted for 125,000 visitors to the Yukon last year, with most of them coming through Skagway.

"Five years ago, the number of visitors coming to the Yukon from cruise tours has actually increased by 121 per cent," she said.

Taylor said the Yukon is backing Alaska's request that the proposed interpretation apply to Hawaii's cruise industry but not Alaska's. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is putting the proposal forward, has yet to respond to Alaska's protests.

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