Ottawa has extended the ban of cruise ships from entering Canadian waters until at least Oct. 31, the federal government announced Friday - a decision that has officially spelled the end of Canada's cruise season this year.
In a statement released Friday, Cruise Lines International Association North West & Canada said the extension of the ban, while understandable, "removes any realistic hope" for a cruise season in Canada for 2020.
“We look forward to working with Transport Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and other regulatory bodies to ensure a safe and successful resumption of the cruise industry in Canada when the time is right," said legal advisor Barry Penner in the statement. "After all, the health of our communities and economy depends on it."
The decision to extend the ban was discussed by both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal transportation minister Marc Garneau this morning. The ban, which originally is in effect until July 1 for any passenger ships with a capacity of 500 overnight passengers or more, has now also been expanded to cover vessels with accommodations for 100 passengers or more.
There are also new, tighter restrictions for vessels in northern waters; no ships with passenger capacities beyond 12 are allowed to operate in that region, Garneau said.
For day cruise vessels and those with capacity under 100 - as well as those operating on lakes and rivers - their operational allowance will be up to provincial or other local health authorities’ determinations, the minister added.
Ferries and water taxi traffic that are considered essential will continue to be allowed with social-distancing and other health measures.
Garneau did acknowledge the economic impact this will have on coastal regions such as the Lower Mainland, but added that Ottawa is looking at ways to address that revenue shortfall for the sector in some other way. But he added in a written release that the health requirements necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to take precedent over other issues.
“Our Government continues to work with other levels of government, transportation industry stakeholders, and Indigenous peoples to re-examine measures and to ensure Canada’s transportation system remains safe and secure during this time,” Garneau said. “We are all in this together.”
B.C. leaders such as health minister Adrian Dix and medical officer Bonnie Henry praised Ottawa's announcement today that it has extended the ban on large cruise ships docking in Canada, calling it "the right thing to do."
Vancouver Fraser Port Authority previously estimated that the cruise-ship sector adds about $2.2 billion to B.C.’s economy through the support of 13,866 jobs and almost $700 million in wages. Officials said that each docked cruise ship brings in about $3 million in economic impact to Metro Vancouver.
But while Penner acknowledged the economic impact the cruise ship ban is having on affiliated industries on-the-ground in Vancouver and beyond, he also pointed out that the cruise ship operators have been voluntarily shutting down operations since March - and the vast majority of the world's 270-plus cruise lines have not seen cases of COVID-19 onboard because of aggressive measures "within 48 hours of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring a global public health emergency."
"Rigorous screening protocols, enhanced sanitation and increased onboard 24/7 medical care and treatment, all funded by industry, will likely be part of the future," Penner added in the statement. "And there may be other onboard operational changes... The top priority for our member cruise lines continues to be the health and safety of passengers, crew and the communities where our ships sail."