A good deal of what happens with cruise itineraries today has to to with the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1898, which has been a pain in the tuckus these past 110 years. And it may be about to get worse.
The act says that no foreign-flagged vessel may carry passengers between American ports unless it stops in at least one foreign port. So let’s say you want to go to Hawaii on a cruise from the West Coast. The ship can do any of the following:
- Start in a Canadian port – Vancouver being the most popular.
- Leave from a U.S. port but stop briefly on the way at a Mexican port – Ensanada being preferred.
- Carry a U.S. flag and crew, paying U.S. wages, a difficult proposition economically.
There’s now a proposal to change the interpretation of the law
rules to make the second option more difficult. Cruise ships would have to spend at least 48 hours in a foreign port or ports to meet the requirement for a foreign port of call.
This would give U.S. flagged ships a leg up, competitively. But there’s a counter-argument – that it would hurt business in U.S. ports by forcing ships to spend more time in foreign ports.
For ships sailing the Seattle to Alaska route, it would mean more time in Vancouver. For ships sailing coastal New England and Canada, it would mean more time in Nova Scotia. No wonder business interests in Alaska and Maine have started to object.
I have another idea. I wonder whether the Passenger Vessel Services Act should be scrapped – not to give foreign vessels an advantage but in return for more accountability.
Much has been made in the past few years about cruise safety and the fact that foreign-flagged ships are largely exempt from U.S. legal control. A foreign-flagged ship at sea is often compared to a foreign country.
But even if they make real or perfunctory visits to foreign ports, these ships often carry U.S. citizens between U.S. ports. Maybe we could let the cruise lines stop jumping through this increasingly silly hoop regarding foreign ports and make them jump where it counts – in security and accountability. Tell them we want U.S. law enforcement to have full jurisdiction over crimes committed on ships carrying U.S. citizens out of U.S. ports.
Just a thought.
(Added 1 /20: Here’s a link to the Federal Registry entry about the proposed change.)