By Melinda Munson
American Cruise Lines (ACL), previously the only cruise ship company scheduled to dock at Skagway’s empty port until Norwegian Cruise Lines’ first visit in September, asked the Municipality if the American Constellation would be welcome in town starting July 23 amid COVID-19 upticks across the country. The Assembly said no.
In a five to one vote on July 2, the Assembly directed Borough Manager Ryan to write a letter notifying ACL that “we will continue the conversation for the 2021 season but with the current plan, we are not ready to accept ACL in 2020.”
On July 7, ACL cancelled all cruises to Alaska citing concerns over “the recent spike in Covid cases around the country.” Norwegian nixed its sailings to The Last Frontier on July 6.
Ryan had been communicating with ACL, one of the few cruise lines still able to operate in Alaska because they are a U.S. flagged ship and therefore do not require a Candian port of call. The cruise line planned to bring around 131 passengers to Skagway.
Cremata told attendees that Resolution 20-17 R, “put control of these situations in the Assembly’s hands so the Assembly needs to provide direction.”
“…If we do nothing, they (ACL) can come dock tomorrow,” he said.
ACL provided a COVID-19 mitigation plan, last updated on July 1. Ryan described the document as “a really thoughtful plan to a new operating environment, and the first of its kind in Skagway.”
However, Ryan had some concerns which included the cruise ship possibly leaving sick passengers behind and unclear detail on when and how the cruise line would inform the city and state if passengers were suspected to have COVID-19 or tested positive for the virus.
Assemblymember Dustin Stone, who presented the motion, felt ACL’s current plan protected passengers more than it protected Skagwegians.
“Cruise ships aren’t set up for social distancing. That isn’t to say that they won’t be and that the industry won’t evolve and adapt to this crisis. But man, July 23 seems really early, especially when we’re seeing such a massive spike in the Lower 48 which is where the passengers on these cruise ships are going to come from.”
Steve Burnham, assemblymember, wants to see more cohesive protocols among all of Southeast’s ports for the protection of residents and tourists.
“My concern is the ship may do everything perfectly. Do we know that the other ports are doing the same?” Burnham asked.
“When we have visitors we care about them as much as we care about ourselves.”
Assemblymember Orion Hanson was the sole vote against the motion.
“This is not a big boat,” he said. “There’s more people than that coming back and forth on the ferry.” He suggested that with continued work, the town and greater Southeast might be ready for cruise ships by the end of August.
“Saying we won’t accept any ships through the rest of the season, I would like to have a little more prudence than that,” he said.
“I don’t agree that we should just go ahead and declare the rest of 2020 to be closed.”
The other assembly members took a more conservative view.
“The risk in my opinion far outweighs the reward … I really think we’re stepping forward a little too quickly. Everyone agrees the 2020 season is a bust,” said Assemblymember David Brena.
“Let’s try to control 2021.”
ACL’s current COVID-19 mitigation plan can be found at: https://www.americancruiselines.com/about-us/covid-19-operating-protocol.