Federal cruise ship ban extended until 2022

New federal order prohibits pleasure craft in Arctic waters and cruise ships from all waters

While companies like Carnival Cruises plan to resume cruise trips in 2021, B.C. won't be one of their ports of call. | Nelson Bennett photo

Tourism dependent businesses like the ones in Gastown that were hoping to see the return of cruise ships later this year have had their hopes dashed.

Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has announced that cruise ships will be banned from Canadian waters until February 28, 2022. The ban on cruise ships was scheduled to expire at the end of this month but are being extended for a full year.

The ban is part of two interim orders that prohibit pleasure and passenger craft from Canadian arctic waters, and cruise ships from all Canadian waters.

The order could be varied, depending on the progress made in COVID-19 vaccinations here and abroad.

"Cruise vessels in Canadian waters pose a risk to our health care systems," the ministry of Transportation said in a news release. "The Government of Canada will continue to evaluate the situation and make changes as necessary to ensure the health and safety of all Canadians. Should the COVID-19 pandemic sufficiently improve to allow the resumption of these activities, the Minister of Transport has the ability to rescind the Interim Orders."

The extension of the ban for one year was not entirely unexpected, said Royce Chwin, CEO of Tourism Vancouver.

"It's not totally unexpected, but certainly disappointing," Chwin said.

Tourism Vancouver had hoped B.C. could reopen to cruise ships later in the summer.

"We're trying to be proactive to figure out a safe way to restart this industry, because this industry relies entirely on the movement of people," Chwin said. "And as long as the movement of people is restricted, or stopped,we can't start generating our own cash register ring.

"Nobody wants to keep going back to government for more support. They want to be able to generate their own revenues, bring their people back and contribute to the community. From that perspective, it's incredibly frustrating. At the same time, nobody wants to put any more pressure on the health care system."

The bans come with fines for violating the prohibitions: $5,000 per day for individuals, or $25,000 per day for groups or corporations that violate the pleasure craft ban, and fines of up to $1 million for violating the bans on pleasure craft. Smaller cruise vessels with fewer than 100 people are exempt.

"Temporary prohibitions to cruise vessels and pleasure craft are essential to continue to protect the most vulnerable among our communities and avoid overwhelming our health care systems," Alghabra said in a press release. "This is the right and responsible thing to do.”

The cruise industry contributes an estimated $4 billion annually to the Canadian economy, about half of which is in B.C. Roughly 280 cruise ships come to Vancouver annually. Every cruise ship that makes a port stop at Canada Place results in about $3.1 million in spending, Chwin said. Annually, that amounts to about $2.2 billion.