Hawaii’s D.C. delegation missing opportunity to help Hawaii tourism?

Photo by Mark Coleman

This following is a “Reader alert” that was sent out Oct. 28, 2021, to everyone on the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii email list. The article it talks about is posted separately here. If you would like to be on the institute’s email list, please contact 864-1776 or info@grassrootinstitute.org

Two bills in Congress are seeking to exempt Alaska from the federal Passenger Vessel Services Act; Hawaii should try to get in on the action

HONOLULU, Oct. 28, 2021 >> Hawaii risks being left out in the cold unless its delegates to Congress act quickly to help reform the 1886 Passenger Vessel Services Act.

That’s the message of a new article by Grassroot Institute of Hawaii research associate Jonathan Helton, who which explains what’s at stake for Hawaii with two new bills introduced in Congress by Alaska’s delegation.

According to the article, “Hawaii congressional delegates missing opportunity to help Hawaii tourism?”, the federal PVSA has been a hindrance to waterborne passenger transportation throughout the U.S. ever since it was enacted 135 years ago. That’s because it confines the carrying of passengers between U.S. ports to ships that are flagged and built in the U.S., and owned and crewed mostly by Americans.

The only way foreign-flagged and -built vessels can legally carry passengers between U.S. ports is if they include a foreign port of call as part of their itineraries. For Alaska, this typically means a port in Canada; for Hawaii, Fanning Island 1,000 miles to the south or even Ensenada, Mexico.

Alaska’s troubles with the PVSA accelerated in early 2020 when Canada, in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, banned large cruise vessels from calling at its ports for a year. But because there are no large U.S.-built ships that serve the Alaska trade, this effectively destroyed most of Alaska’s cruise industry for 2020 and much of 2021.

When Canada extended its ban to February 2022, Alaska’s congressional delegation mobilized and, with full support from Congress and the president, secured a temporary exemption from the PVSA, to expire when Canada lifts its COVID-19 ban.

Canada has since moved the lifting date of its ban to Nov. 1, 2021. Nevertheless, Alaska’s congressional delegation subsequently introduced legislation to exempt the Last Frontier from the PVSA permanently — or at least until a large U.S.-flagged cruise ship enters the Alaska market, which has a good chance of being never — and that’s where the opportunity for Hawaii comes in.

But while Alaska’s representatives in Washington, D.C., have been working to lessen the impact of the PVSA on cruise ships serving Alaska and help their state’s cruise tourism industry, Hawaii’s delegation has expressed little interest in removing the obstacles that limit cruise ship service in Hawaii waters.

The Alaska measures don’t include Hawaii, but with a little persuasion from the Hawaii delegation, perhaps that could be arranged. Even without being included, enactment of either of the Alaska bills could help Hawaii down the road, by showing that change in America’s ossified federal maritime laws is possible.

For Hawaii, ocean cruising fits well into the current zeitgeist of tourism that has minimal impact on the environment, traffic congestion, overcrowding and other factors that policymakers have been trying to mitigate. It is a relatively “clean” source of income that provides employment, generates taxes and boosts the economy — and could do more so, if only the PVSA were repealed or reformed.

You can read the entire article here.

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