(2:24 p.m. EDT) -- After banning nearly all cruise operations within its waters since spring 2020, the Canadian Government has provided reassurance that cruises scheduled to call on or depart from Canadian ports in 2022 will go ahead as planned.
On Thursday, Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra was in Victoria, British Columbia, to announce Transport Canada will amend its current ban on cruise activities, allowing vessels to arrive in Canadian waters once again as of November 1, 2021, if operators can prove they can adhere to public health requirements.
Flanked by a podium sign reading "Sailing Towards A 2022 Cruise Ships Season", Alghabra braved the blustery wind to deliver good news on a sunny day.
"We said these vessels would not be allowed in Canadian waters until February 28, 2022," Alghabra said. "Our government is now ready to announce that we are accelerating the timeline to resume cruise ship activities."
"This means that the cruise ship operators will be able to prepare and be ready for full operations by the start of the 2022 cruise season. Our timing will be aligned with our American neighbours."
Guidance on what public health requirements cruise lines docking in Canada would have to follow was not provided.
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Announcement Reverses Ban Into 2022 on Cruise Ships
Transport Canada had previously banned cruise travel in Canadian waters until March 1, 2022 -- a nearly two-year extinction of cruise operations in Canada. Meanwhile, cruises have begun to restart around the world, including in Europe, the United States, the Caribbean and the United Kingdom.
While cruise ships don't typically call in Canadian ports after November 1, the new guidance follows recommendations set out by the Cruise Lines International Association - Northwest and Canada.
"It would be helpful to align Transport Canada's Interim Order No. 5 with the U.S. Center for Disease Control's Conditional Sail Order, which is set to expire on November 1, 2021," CLIA-NWC said in a statement issued in mid-June.
"While we understand and support the Canadian government's focus on combatting COVID-19, much has changed and been learned since March 2020. These changes include the widespread distribution of vaccines and adoption of stringent new health protocols aboard cruise ships."
"Passengers Want a Canadian Experience in British Columbia"
Minister Alghabra's decision to announce the change to Transport Canada's rules in Victoria is no accident. Victoria, like the rest of British Columbia and Canada, has lost its entire 2021 cruise season, despite the fact ships will begin sailing to Alaska next week under special provisions brought about by the Alaska Delegation that allow ships to bypass the U.S. Passenger Vessel Services Act and Canadian ports of call to sail direct from Seattle to Alaska.
"As I stand here today and look out at this empty terminal, I'm reminded this is a Thursday," Anna Poustie, Victoria Cruise Industry Alliance chair, said. "And normally on a Thursday we're here to welcome one of our largest ships, Ovation of the Seas. It has been a difficult time…and we have been waiting for this message, so a huge thank you that this signal is being sent."
The Canadian province of British Columbia has played a significant role in cruises to Alaska for decades thanks to the PVSA, which mandates foreign-flagged ships (nearly all cruise ships) must call on a non-U.S. port when sailing roundtrip from the U.S.
Despite this, and the threat posed by the temporary repeal of the PVSA to Canadian ports of call, British Columbia Premier John Horgan has seemingly gone out of his way to damage relations with the industry, musing in the past about not allowing any travelers into the province and alternately mocking and belittling U.S. politicians concerned about restarting cruises to Alaska.
That tune started to change measurably Thursday, with Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming reaffirming the province's commitment to cruise.
"We know that cruise ship passengers want a Canadian experience in British Columbia, and we know that British Columbians want to welcome them to our cities when it is safe to do so," Fleming said.
Added Victoria mayor Lisa Helps: "My thanks to the federal government for doing the necessary work to keep Canadians safe during the pandemic, but also for understanding how much the cruise industry means to the entire south island and for making this announcement today to give predictability and certainty to the industry going forward."
Choppy Seas Still Ahead for Canadian Cruises
Canada isn't entirely out of the woods yet. There is a push from some sectors of the U.S. government to repeal the Passenger Vessel Services Act entirely, and this year -- for the first time -- won't need a passport on closed-loop itineraries from Seattle.
The Canadian government still advises residents to avoid all cruise ship travel, and non-Canadian residents are largely prohibited from entering the country.
However, the Canadian Government's latest move will provide needed reassurance to passengers and cruise operators alike that their 2022 voyages are more likely to go ahead as planned than they were yesterday. The PVSA exemption allowing ships was tied to Transport Canada's cruise ban, and will likely lapse as well on November 1, 2021 -- a few weeks after the 2021 Alaska season ends.