Canada is extending its ban on cruise ships through February 2022 because of Covid-19, effectively shutting down popular summer trips to Alaska for another year.
The prohibition will allow authorities to focus on the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine and limit the spread of new variants, the government said in a statement Thursday.
The decision is a setback for an industry trying to get back in business after being in dry dock for almost year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Alaska is one of the industry’s top destinations — it attracted a record 1.33 million cruise guests in 2019 — and the ban will also affect New England cruises that travel north to Montreal and other stops.
“This extension, if not amended as pandemic conditions improve, or through action by U.S. authorities, would potentially require our brands to cancel our Alaska and Canada/New England cruise vacation seasons this year,” Carnival Corp., the largest cruise operator, said in an email.
The Norwegian Bliss cruise ship passes through John Hopkins Inlet in Glacier Bay, Alaska, in July 2019.
Photographer: Tim Rue/Bloomberg
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., which also sails to Alaska, said it was studying the order and hasn’t canceled cruises that visit Canadian ports.
“We are currently exploring several initiatives that may allow such cruises to continue, especially for the important Alaska season,” Norwegian said. “Given the fluidity of the current environment, we will also continue to work with the Canadian government to amend their current suspension.”
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Outbreaks of Covid-19 on cruise ships early in the pandemic led to deaths among passengers and crew, and stranded several ships as port after port turned them away, ultimately leading to a shutdown. The industry is still closed in the U.S., but cruise companies have been aiming to gradually return to service and get most of their fleets back to sea by year-end.
A 1920 maritime law bars foreign-flagged ships from transporting passengers directly between two U.S. ports, so Alaska voyages typically make stops in Canada. Alaska represents about 5% of the global cruise-line deployment, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, the trade group known as CLIA.
“While this is beyond our control, we remain committed to operating any portion of our Alaska season,” Carnival said. “We are hopeful that positive progress relative to the pandemic accelerates to the point that the Canadian Transport Minister will rescind the interim order and allow cruise vacations to resume in 2021.”