Norwegian Bliss is preparing to depart Juneau on June 5, 2018 (Photo by Adelyn Baxter / KTOO)
In a step towards a limited cruise season at the end of the summer, Norwegian Cruise Line has signed an agreement with the State of Alaska and several of Alaska’s port operators.
Governor Mike Dunleavy’s office on Thursday announced the agreement, which sets out a set of protocols that will guide the resumption of Norwegian cruises to Alaska. All cruise lines that wish to operate in the United States this year must enter into such agreements with American ports in order to navigate with the blessing of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Honestly, I was skeptical that this would happen, but I’m just excited that it actually happens, and we’re going to have cruise ships returning to Alaska this summer,” said John Binkley, president of Ward. . Cove Dock Group, which has a new private cruise ship dock just north of Ketchikan.
The first Norwegian ship would set sail for Alaska in early August. Week-long trips would run through the end of October and visit Ketchikan, Juneau, Glacier Bay National Park and Hoonah’s Icy Strait Point. Trips through the end of August would also include stops in Skagway.
The agreement stipulates that a Norwegian ship would pass through Southeast Alaska once a week. On Monday, the company said the 4,000-passenger Bliss would be on the route, but is listing four potential ships for its routes in Alaska, giving it some flexibility.
“We thank the State of Alaska for facilitating the development of this agreement, the first agreement to be submitted to the CDC for approval for Alaska,” said the president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Frank Del Rio, in a statement provided by the governor’s office. .
The multiport agreement aims to meet a requirement of the CDC. It lays out safety procedures to prevent COVID-19 from getting on board and outlines the Norwegian’s plan to respond to cases while traveling.
Notably, the company said it plans to sail only with fully vaccinated guests and crew and allow cruise tourists to explore port cities independently in accordance with updated CDC rules. If cases of COVID-19 occur on board, those infected and exposed will be quarantined in specially designated cabins. The agreement says they will rely on the medical facilities on board the ship to treat cases and “remove affected people from the area in accordance with applicable transport, medical care and accommodation requirements.”
The agreement also outlines procedures for port operators, including the requirement that 95% of port staff be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The CDC must approve the plan before the ships can set sail.
“Norwegian will submit the deal to the CDC this week, and the CDC has committed to a five-day deadline,” governor’s office spokeswoman Lauren Giliam said Thursday. Norwegian did not respond to requests for clarification of the deal.
On Thursday, the private dock owners of Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau and Hoonah signed on, as did the Alaska State Department of Health and the Hoonah City Government.
The president and CEO of Huna Totem Corporation, owner of the Icy Strait Point cruise port in Hoonah, said the deal is a model for other ports in the Southeast.
“Together with the Governor’s team, the City of Hoonah, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and the other ports, we have created a model to follow for safe operations, allowing Alaska to resume operations,” said Russell. Dick from Huna Totem in the governor’s office press release.
Local officials in other ports in the southeast say there are still details to be worked out. Ketchikan Port Manager Mark Hilson said city officials have yet to sign the deal.
“For every port community that has not signed on, there is probably some adaptation to be done and work to be done to bring it to a point where municipal entities are comfortable adopting it,” said Hilson. “But it’s progress, and it’s greatly appreciated.
The final deal will need to be approved by Ketchikan City Council. Hilson says it’s not clear whether Norwegian plans to visit the city-owned port of Ketchikan – the cruise line has a preferential mooring arrangement with the Ward Cove wharf north of the city limits – but he says the deal serves as a model for other Alaska cruise lines.
Juneau city manager Rorie Watt says he’s waiting for an updated cruise ship schedule from Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska – the company that schedules cruise ship stopovers – before signing up.
Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata said his local assembly has yet to give the green light to the deal; he says his community was just added to the document on Wednesday. He said Skagway had “a few issues that we want to resolve”, but he didn’t think they would be a problem “once the adjustments are made”.
Cremata said earlier this year that he was concerned Skagway might not be able to meet a CDC requirement for onshore hospital space for COVID-19 patients. The cruise line executive avoids this problem – if a passenger needs to be disembarked for COVID-19 treatment, they will be sent to a Seattle hospital. But Norwegian also says its vaccination requirements make outbreaks unlikely.
The deal does not specify whether Norwegian would bypass or restrict visitors to port communities with a major COVID-19 outbreak. This has been a concern in Ketchikan, which has seen a record spread of the disease in recent weeks. Ketchikan has already missed two small cruise ship calls due to the outbreak.
Ketchikan Port Manager Hilson said he expects other lines that visit Alaska – like Princess, Holland America and Royal Caribbean – to submit their own proposals for security protocols soon.
“We expect to hear from them shortly,” he said.
Holland America and Princess have announced their intention to restart Alaska cruises at the end of July.
This story was produced as part of a collaboration between KRBD and Alaska Energy Desk.