Charting the course for the next century in maritime policy | Community perspective



When the chapter on the Covid-19 pandemic is written in Alaskan history, it will be remembered as a time of resilience, shared sacrifice and the never-give-up spirit that inhabits all Alaskans. With new tools for economic development and prosperity, I think we can come back stronger than ever.

Covid-19 has exposed critical vulnerabilities in Alaska’s economy, which necessitated emergency measures to save part of the 2021 summer cruise season. The return of cruise ships to the south- Eastern Alaska has brought much needed economic activity to the region. But it also reminded us that in the future we cannot allow such a vital part of our economy to be held hostage by a foreign country, in this case Canada.

Make no mistake, without the passage of the Alaskan Tourism Restoration Act, Canada’s port closures would have doomed the 2021 cruise season despite our ability to mitigate Covid-19 on large cruise ships. To add insult to injury, Canada’s power to cancel the 2021 Alaska cruise season was only possible due to a US law known as the Passenger Vessels Services Act ( PVSA). In short, the PVSA, enacted in 1886, does not allow foreign-flagged passenger ships to make consecutive calls at U.S. ports without stopping at a foreign port in between. When the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act expires, Canada will once again have a de facto veto over the Alaska cruise industry. Accordingly, we must reform the PVSA to protect the sovereignty of our tourism economy.

This summer I introduced the Tribal Tourism Sovereignty Act, which will do just that. My proposition is simple but powerful: Large foreign-flagged passenger ships calling at ports or locations in the United States owned by Native Alaskan tribes or corporations would meet the shutdown requirement. abroad of the PVSA. In Alaska, this would mean that travel would no longer have to stop over at or from Canada. Cruises could begin and end in Alaska, thereby maximizing their stay in our state and opening up new economic development opportunities for Alaskans. My bill also benefits the tribal communities of the Lower 48 by creating port development opportunities for tribes in Washington State, Oregon, the Great Lakes and the Northeast.

As Alaska celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act this year, we need additional tools to help Alaska’s Indigenous communities attract investment and continue economic development. Southeast Alaska has already seen strong public and private investment in cruise-related tourist areas such as Sitka and Icy Strait Point. My bill would allow lands and tribal communities to benefit from this type of investment and capture additional economic activity in Alaska. There are many potential places for this arrangement to flourish: the Aleutians on Adak, Metlakatla, or even Port Clarence in the Bering Sea. In addition, my bill includes strong provisions to protect aboriginal sovereignty and gives aboriginal communities control over agreements with cruise lines.

The bipartisan infrastructure investment and jobs law passed by the Senate will hopefully be considered in the House this month and enacted. Thanks to the good work of my colleagues in the Senate, Alaska will benefit from a significant windfall to modernize port and river infrastructure. Passage of my bill will help these communities attract public and private investment that will benefit Alaska’s native communities year round.

Now is the time for Alaskans and Congress to think outside the box. The Covid-19 pandemic hit the reset button on a lot of what we took for granted. I support the PVSA and have championed it throughout my career because it helps protect our country’s sea-born workforce. However, the near failure of this year’s cruise season underscored the need for reform.

Changing the PVSA is not unprecedented, and my bill would prevent Alaska from pursuing a piecemeal approach in the future. It’s time for a new model that doesn’t allow foreign governments to control Alaska’s economy. My proposal offers a win-win opportunity for tourism markets and indigenous communities.

It is time for us to seize this moment to chart a course for the next century in Alaska.

Representative Don Young represents Alaska as a whole. He is a member of the Transport and Infrastructure Committee and was Chairman of the Committee from 2001 to 2007.


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