JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — President Joe Biden signed into law Monday legislation that opens a door for resumed cruise ship travel to Alaska after the pandemic last year scrapped sailings.
The measure pushed by members of Alaska's Republican congressional delegation will allow large cruise ships to sail directly from Washington state to Alaska without stopping in Canada. It is intended as a temporary workaround of a longstanding federal law that requires certain large cruise ships bound for Alaska to stop in Canada or start trips there.
Canada, amid COVID-19 concerns, has barred cruise operations through February.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Alaska has a limited opportunity for cruise travel, unlike sunny locales such as Florida. Before the pandemic, the season in Alaska would begin in late spring and extend through the summer or sometimes early fall.
She said cruise lines now have an opportunity to book trips to bring people to Alaska and “help us with our economy that has really been smacked hard by COVID.” Tourism is an important industry in the state, particularly for many southeast Alaska communities heavily reliant on cruise ship passengers.
Passage of the bill underscores the importance of not giving up, Murkowski said in comments alongside Sen. Dan Sullivan and U.S. Rep. Don Young, the other members of the state's congressional delegation, in Washington, D.C, on Monday.
Cruise lines still must meet guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to guard against COVID-19.
Earlier Monday, Norwegian Cruise Line announced plans to resume U.S. operations beginning Aug. 7, with voyages from Seattle to Alaska ports. The company has planned sailings through mid-October.
Cruise lines such as Holland America Line also have announced sailing plans.
Many of the large ships that visit Alaska are registered in foreign countries. U.S. law prohibits such ships from sailing between two American ports without stopping at a foreign port.
Associated Press reporter Darlene Superville contributed from Washington, D.C.