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Canada’s Ban on Cruise Ships Ends

Canada's cruise ship ban ends
Vancouver histrically was a key port for Alaska cruises (Port of Vancouver photo)

Published Nov 2, 2021 3:16 PM by The Maritime Executive

Canada has become the latest country to end its restrictions on cruise ships. The expiration of the ban as of November first comes 19 months after the country barred large cruise ships from entering its ports, but at the same time, the federal government continues to advise citizens against travel aboard cruise ships.

The official end of the ban follows through on a decision first announced by Omar Alghabra, Canada’s Minister of Transport, in July 2021. The move, however, is largely ceremonial, as Canada’s cruise season has already mostly concluded for the year. The last of the cruise ships operating to Alaska completed their cruises in mid-October after a season that had been shorted by Canada’s decision to continue to block cruise ships for most of 2021. Cruises to Canada’s Atlantic maritime provinces in 2021 were canceled due to the restrictions.

Canada first announced that it would close its ports to cruise ships in mid-March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic. The ban was later extended through the 2020 cruise season and then in February 2021 for a further year. In addition to impacting the large cruise ships, the ban along with other travel restrictions also disrupted ferry service including operations on the Pacific Coast. 

The federal government continues to advise citizens to avoid travel on cruise ships until further notice. The warning first issued early in the pandemic cautions that travelers might find themselves in quarantine situations where Canada would have little diplomatic authority to assist them. The advisory also says, “it is unlikely that there would be a government-organized repatriation flight to return to Canada,” in the advent of a COVID-19 outbreak or travelers becoming ill. The travel community is calling on the federal government to end the advisory against cruises following the lifting of the restrictions on international air travel as of October 21.

Minister Alghabra said that the decision to shorten the cruise ban so that it would end on November 1, was to aid the cruise lines in planning their 2022 cruise operations. The federal government wanted to send a signal to the cruise lines that Canada would be open for tourists next year. Local government officials in British Columbia report that already over 600 cruise ship visits have been scheduled for 2022 in Vancouver and Victoria. They expect that over one million passengers with visit each of the ports next year.

Some, however, questioned if the end of the ban was a political attempt to defuse efforts in the U.S. Congress calling for a permanent exemption for Alaska cruises from the cabotage rules. The Passenger Vessel Services Act, which dates to 1886, requires foreign ships carrying American passengers to visit a foreign port on cruises scheduled to begin and end in the United States. Led by the Alaskan delegation that was successful in gaining the 2021 exemption, new legislation has been proposed to extend the exemption making it possible for the major cruise ships to operate directly from the U.S. ports to Alaska.

With the end of the ban in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and China remain the largest cruise markets that are still restricting cruise travel. The Australian travel community has been calling on its government to relax the cruise restrictions, but the country’s 2021-2022 cruise season has largely been canceled. Similarly, China continues to restrict international travelers but has permitted some of its domestic cruise ships to resume service.