Canada Bans Cruise Ships for 2021, Halting Alaskan Cruises

While the Alaskan cruise season wasn’t slated to begin for months, it has likely already ended. Today, the Canadian government announced it is banning cruise ships from its waters until 2022.

Port of Vancouver
Ports like Vancouver will not allow cruise ships in 2021, stopping Alaskan cruises.

According to a statement released to the public:

Today, the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Omar Alghabra, announced two new Interim Orders, which prohibit pleasure craft in Canadian Arctic waters and cruise vessels in all Canadian waters until February 28, 2022. This means:

  • Adventure-seeking pleasure craft are still prohibited from entering Arctic waters.
  • Passenger vessels carrying more than 12 people are still prohibited from entering Arctic coastal waters, including Nunatsiavut, Nunavik, and the Labrador Coast.
  • Cruise vessels carrying more than 100 people are still prohibited from operating in Canadian waters.

The previous ban was set to expire at the end of February 2021. This renewal extends that order for another year.

There is hope that some smaller vessels carrying fewer than 100 passengers will be able to sail. However, major cruise ships will not be able to visit Canada this year. Without ships being able to stop in Canada, that means the Alaskan cruise season is effectively cancelled for 2021.

Why Canada’s Ban Likely Ends Alaskan Cruising

How does Canada banning ships end the Alaskan cruise season? That’s due to U.S. laws surrounding the carrying of passengers from American ports.

As explained in detail here, cruise ships departing American ports must make a stop in a foreign country due to being foreign-flagged. Nearly every cruise ship flies under the flag of a foreign nation.

Most trips heading to Alaska depart Seattle and make a quick stop in Canada (typically Victoria, British Columbia) before arriving back in the United States and letting passengers off. Without the ability to make the Canadian stop on the trip, foreign-flagged ships sailing from the U.S. would potentially face fines from American authorities.

Therefore, the Canadian ban all but halts Alaskan cruises. For instance, Royal Caribbean has already removed these cruises from its website for 2021.

We saw the same scenario play out last year when Canada originally banned all cruise ships, putting an end to the Alaskan season even if cruises had resumed in the United States.

The closest foreign country to visit other than Canada would be Mexico, but a route including a stop in both Mexico and Alaska would be all but unfeasible given the long distance.

Will a Vaccine and Falling Cases Improve the Chances of Sailing?

This news comes at a difficult time for the industry. While cruises have been paused since March 2020, there is some hope that they will return with a new framework laid out by the CDC to sail safely.

Even so, COVID cases continue to be high in the United States and anticipated return dates continue to be pushed back. For instance, while the daily average of new cases is roughly 4,000 in Canada, it is 136,000 in the U.S.

As of now, cruise lines have anticipated return dates starting in May 2021. It has yet to be seen if the vaccine rollout, combined with dropping cases in the U.S., and new safety protocols, will allow the cruises to sail in May or if further delays are in store.

One thing we do know, however, is that even if cruises do return to sailing from the U.S. in 2021, they won’t be able to visit Canada until 2022.

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