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U.S Senator introduces bill to overhaul PVSA and allow cruise ships to not have to visit a foreign port

10 Jun 2021

The cruise industry received a temporary reprieve for cruises to Alaska this year, but one Senator wants it to become permanent.

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) has introduced a new bill to repeal and reform the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 (PVSA).

The Passenger Vessel Service Act (PVSA) of 1886 requires foreign flagged cruise ships to call on a foreign port if sailing a closed-loop cruise form the United States.

This means, cruise ships cannot sail from Seattle and only visit Alaska ports.  It must make a stop outside the country, and Canada is the only place between Seattle and Alaska for that.

For two years, Canada has banned cruise ships from being able to enter their waters due to the global health crisis, thus making cruises to Alaska from the United States legally impossible under the PVSA.

The justification for both the PVSA is to protect the U.S. Merchant Marine (the licensed (officers) and documented (trades) personnel on the ships) and to protect U.S. shipyards that both build and repair the ships.

Senator Lee calls it an "outdated, protectionist law that harms American jobs and American tourism."

"This arcane law benefits Canada, Mexico, and other countries who receive increased maritime traffic, at the expense of American workers in our coastal cities, towns, and ports. Reducing demand for jobs and travel opportunities here in the U.S. is the opposite of ‘America First.’ And in the context of ocean liners, this ‘protectionist’ law is literally protecting no one, as there hasn’t been a cruise ship built domestically in over half a century. The PVSA is bad economics and bad law, and it’s far past time that Congress reconsider it."

Senator Lee introduced three bills aimed at undoing the PVSA, and potentially allow cruise ships to be able to sail from the United States without a foreign port stop.  The "Safeguarding American Tourism Act" is primarily aimed at cruise ships and specifically talks about them.

Open America’s Ports Act

  • Would repeal the PVSA and adjust cabotage requirements accordingly, allowing all ships that qualify under the laws of the United States to transport passengers from U.S. port to U.S. port.

Safeguarding American Tourism Act

  • Would exempt large passenger vessels (“vessels with 800 or more passenger berths”) from PVSA requirements, and adjust cabotage requirements accordingly, allowing these ships to transport passengers from U.S. port to U.S. port.
  • This targeted approach would not affect or harm any existing industry, as there hasn’t been a cruise ship built in the U.S. (and which would therefore meet the PVSA’s high bar) since 1958. 

Protecting Jobs in American Ports Act

  • Would repeal the “U.S.-built” requirement for passenger vessels operating between U.S. ports, thereby incentivizing American companies to develop voyages that increase traffic and economic activity – and opportunities for port workers – in American coastal cities and towns.

Earlier this year, Congress passed the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act (ATRA) and President Joe Biden signed it into law.

ATRA applies to only cruises this year from the Pacific Northwest, and only on select cruise ships.

Why haven't cruise lines been more aggressive with the CDC?

10 Feb 2021

Cruise ships have not been able to sail for a year from the United States and many cruise fans think cruise lines should do more to try to fight the ban.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) implemented a ban on cruise ships in March 2020, and has yet to approve any ship to resume service.

Lawsuits, press conferences, social media call-outs and even protests have all been suggested by cruise fans who think the cruise lines are being held to a double standard by the CDC compared to other travel industries.

Cruise lines were the first industry to voluntarily shut itself down at the beginning of the global health crisis, and they are the only industry that has not had the opportunity to reopen since.

All cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, have been very leery of negative statements towards the CDC. This has left a lot of fans, travel agents, investors, and industry insiders confused why more is not being done to highlight the problem.

During a webinar with travel agents, Royal Caribbean's Senior Vice President, Sales, Trade Support and Service, Vicki Freed, answered this topic directly after one travel agent brought it up as a concern.

The question raised was why hasn't Royal Caribbean been more aggressive with the federal government.

Ms. Freed's response was, "When you're working with the government, it has to be a partnership and it's not one sided. We can't push them to make a sale. It is has to be jointly agreed upon."

"We have to tread with them very carefully and we want to work with them as a good partner. So we don't we we don't have answers yet because we're waiting for answers."

The topic of if the CDC is holding up cruise lines has been brought up a number of times over the last year.

Just last month, one Wall Street analyst asked repeatedly Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald if the CDC was delaying test cruises beginning. Mr. Arnold tip-toed around the answer.

Analyst: "So it sounds like you're waiting specifically for the CDC to issue some specific guidance around the test cruise timing."

Donald: "To answer your question about specific timing on test cruise, yes, we would be waiting."

At a meeting in September 2020, Miami-Dade officials called out the CDC for being slow to get cruises to restart.

"While other industries have been allowed to reopen in phases, the cruise industry remains totally shut down," said Vice Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa at the meeting. "In April, the CDC gave the cruise industry seven days to come up with a lay-up plan, and the cruise industry worked tirelessly and gave them the plan in seven days. The CDC took 14 weeks to somewhat respond to the plan that was presented."

"The problem is that's not fair, that the CDC is not paying attention and communicating with the cruise industry on the plans that they are created so they can tell them this is right, this needs more work, so they can be prepared."

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain spoke a bit about the CDC in a video update he released in November, saying he was determined to work with the agency to get cruises back up and running.

"We are determined to work with the CDC to implement, adjust and clarify all those requirements so that we can meet the goal of safe and healthy sailing."

"It won't be easy and it won't be quick, but it will be thorough and it will be effective."

New Defense Bill includes rules for cruise ships to have a doctor onboard

15 Dec 2020

The United States Senate passed on Friday a $741 billion year-end defense spending bill, and it apparently included new regulations for the cruise industry.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was passed on Friday, and there is language attached to require cruise ships to have a trained doctor onboard, as well as other safety requirements.

Section 8222 of the bill addresses "medical standards" for passenger vessels and has 3 main parts to amend Chapter 35 of title 46:

  • A physician is always present and available to treat  any passengers who may be on board the vessel in the event of an emergency situation
  • The vessel is in compliance with the Health Care Guidelines for Cruise Ship Medical Facilities established by the American College of Emergency Physicians
  • The initial safety briefing given to the passengers on board the vessel includes
    • the location of the vessel’s medical facilities
    • the appropriate steps passengers should follow during a medical emergency

In effect, the government now requires cruise ships to have a doctor always onboard and the muster drill informs guests where the medical center is located, as well as what to do in the case of an emergency.

Section 3507(b) of title 46 also requires cruise lines to install video cameras in all public places and hold onto surveillance footage for 20 days. 

The purpose of the camera surveillance is "to deter, prevent and record criminal behavior."

These changes are not massive changes, and much of these changes may already exist on cruises.

On Royal Caribbean's first cruise ship back in service, Quantum of the Seas, the ship offers "highly trained and credentialed medical teams, consisting of doctors, nurses, and specialists, on both land and sea."

In addition, Royal Caribbean says it has added more doctors and registered nurses to each ship, as well as an Infection Control Officer who will monitor and coordinate the implementation of the company's infection control plan onboard. And all Royal Caribbean onboard physicians receive mandatory acute respiratory training.

In terms of the safety drill, Royal Caribbean has always conducted a safety drill in compliance with international maritime law on the first day of any sailing, where important steps to follow in the case of an emergency are explained.

Royal Caribbean has also upgraded its safety briefing going forward, providing the important safety information via a guest's smart device or stateroom television instead of a group setting.

Read moreTop 10 questions about Royal Caribbean's new Muster 2.0

The safety drill instructs passengers were to go in case of an emergency, and instructions on how to properly use a life jacket. 

After reviewing the safety information on a mobile device or cabin TV, passengers then will complete the drill by visiting their assigned assembly station, where a crew member will verify that all steps have been completed and answer questions.

Credit to the Miami Herald for first spotting this news.

U.S. Congressmen demand answers from CDC about decisions to allow cruise ships to sail

11 Dec 2020

Two members of the United States Congress are demanding answers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about decisions related to cruise ship operations.

The Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) sent a lettter to the CDC and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asking why they have not received records related to decisions made surrounding the cruise industry.

In the letter, the Congressmen asked the CDC more than seven months ago for records related to "the dangers posed to the cruise industry" from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In particular, they were interested in knowing how the Carnival Corporation and its affiliated cruise lines, had responded to the pandemic. 

Essentially, the CDC dragged its feet and has only sent back  a single records production on July 10, 2020.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard has sent over more than 10,000 pages of requested information in the same time frame.

The CDC's response has been "completely unacceptable", according to both Congressmen.

"The documents are a key part of the Committee’s ongoing oversight efforts regarding the actions taken by both the Carnival Corporation and the CDC in response to the threat of COVID-19 on cruise ships," the members of Congress said in a statement.

In short, they believe the thousands of documents needed are part of a greater "concern that Carnival and its nine affiliated cruise lines were ignoring the public health threat of the pandemic in its public-facing marketing materials".

Will the new Senate bill help the cruise lines restart?

24 Sep 2020

Last week, two U.S. Senators introduced a new piece of legislation to Congress that it hopes will get cruise ships sailing again while changing the structure of how cruise lines are regulated, but does this bill have a chance of actually becoming law?

Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio introduced the Set Sail Safely Act that if passed, will create a Maritime Task Force focused on the health, safety, security, & logistical changes to allow cruise lines & ports to resume operations. 

While this proposed new law sounds great, what exactly should cruise fans and the industry expect going forward? 

The reality of most bills

In order to get some answers, I turned to Kelli Davis, who is an adjunct government professor and high school social studies teacher in Texas.

In order for any bill to become law, it has to pass a few key steps, including a few votes along the way. In fact, only about two to three percent of legislation that gets introduced actually becomes law.

Otto von Bismark famously said, "If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made," and digging into the nuances of Congress, it becomes quite clear why.

Many times in Congress, bills are introduced as so-called "PR bills", whose purpose is to build public relations with constituents or other allies within the Senate or House of Representatives.

While these PR bills may not ever have a chance of becoming law, it does bring attention to the issue. In the case of the Set Sail Safely Act, both Senators issued press releases related to it, and it got national attention across major media outlets.

The Set Sail Safely Act

While we won't know the full intention of this bill without talking to either Senator, it does stand to reason that both Florida Senators created this bill as a way to demonstrate they recognize the concern for the cruise industry and the ripple effect it is having on their constituents.

Ms. Davis provided her opinion of the motivation behind proposing this kind of legislation, "It's the people that own businesses in Fort Lauderdale, in Miami, in Cocoa Beach, who are dealing with the ripple effect of the cruisers and the cruise industry not being there. And so Rubio and Scott, both with this bill, are able to say, if anything, they're able to put out a press release. Hey, we're trying to do something for you. We're trying to help you."

The Set Sail Safely Act has been introduced, and has been read into the record and referred to the Commerce Committee that deals with science and transpiration.

Ms. Davis points out that of the twenty three members of the Commerce Committee, only six have cruise ports their states. Not to mention the Senate is currently embroiled in the fight over whether or not to replace the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

"Ultimately what will determine whether or not this bill gets a vote is whether it's deemed important," Ms. Davis explained. "Is it important enough to the committee members to give it a hearing, to give it time, to give it consideration, to give it a vote, because it requires a vote from the committee to get it to the floor for a full Senate vote."

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain was asked about the new legislation during a webinar with travel advisors on Wednesday, and he also seems to feel the thought behind the bill means more than the potential new law itself.

"I'm not really going to comment so much on the legislation that's been proposed, but I think what it does show is it's another example of the desire of people to get back to closer sense of normalcy if and only if we can do it in a healthy and safe manner."

"I think the introduction of that legislation shows there is political support and we have it in so many other ways that provided we can do so in a healthy and safe manner."

Next steps for the bill

In order for the Set Sail Safely Act to become law, it would have to get enough votes to make it out of committee, then it goes to the full floor for a debate on the full floor. 

Depending on how the debate turns out, then it would go to full vote and then the whole process has to start all over again in the House of Representatives.

You can track the progress of the bill on the U.S. Congress website.

U.S. Senators introduce bill to allow cruise lines to restart

16 Sep 2020

Two United States Senators introduced a new bill that aims to reopen the cruise industry to start sailing again.

Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio announced new legislation known as the Set Sail Safely Act.

The bill creates a Maritime Task Force focused on the health, safety, security, & logistical changes to allow cruise lines & ports to resume operations. 

At its heart, the Set Sail Safely Act would do two basic things:

  • Require the proper federal agencies, led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to work together with input from private sector stakeholders to develop a plan for the safe resumption of cruise line operations.
  • Create a timeline for meetings of the Task Force, recommendations, and implementation of the Task Force’s recommendations.

The Maritime Task Force would include representatives from several federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, Health and Human Services, Department of Transportation, Department of State and the Federal Maritime Commission.

Private Sector stakeholders would include representatives from the passenger cruise line industry, U.S. ports, commercial fishermen, small businesses and health professionals.

Senator Scott emphasized this new law will ensure developing the proper guidelines for cruises to resume, "this legislation will support the development of guidelines needed to ensure the safe resumption of our cruise lines and port operations."

Senator Rubio echoed his colleague's support of the bill by saying he believes this is part of the path to recovery, "I am proud to join Senator Scott in introducing legislation that will provide a roadmap for cruise lines and port authorities to safely resume operations, allowing our valuable tourism economy, and the people it employs, to begin to recover."

Lots of support already

The legislation has the backing of many organizations, including the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

CLIA Global Chair (and former Royal Caribbean International President) Adam Goldstein commented on the new proposal, "The cruise industry is an important economic contributor in the United States, supporting nearly half a million U.S. jobs, and over 150,000 in Florida alone, prior to the pandemic. The Senators’ bill draws much needed attention to the importance of strategic dialogue between appropriate federal agencies and a broad group of public and private sector stakeholders to safely advance a resumption of cruising in the U.S. that mirrors the gradual and successful restart of cruise operations in Europe."

A number of other high ranking industry officials have already voiced their support for the bill, including:

  • PortMiami Director & CEO Juan M. Kuryla
  • Miami-Dade Tourism and the Ports Committee Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa,
  • Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez
  • Florida Ports Council President and CEO Doug Wheeler
  • American Association of Port Authorities President and CEO Christopher J. Connor

Royal Caribbean hires new Washington lobbyists

12 May 2020

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has hired Washington D.C. lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, and  independent lobbyist Kevin Kayes to represent their interests.

Politico reported the cruise giant has hired Brownstein Hyatt to bolster the cruise line's lobbying power.

Despite the Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines not getting federal stimulus funds in March, Royal Caribbean’s vice president of federal relations, Eleni Kalisch, says the hiring has nothing to do with the current coronavirus situation.

"We retained Brownstein Hyatt just to enhance our general legislative work in DC," Kalisch told Politico. "They will not be seeking any coronavirus relief on our behalf."

Coincidentally, Carnival also hired lobbyists in Crestview Strategy.

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