Small cruise ships could return to Haines sooner than expected


May 28, 2020

At least one cruise line is taking steps to resume sailings in Lynn Canal as early as next month.

At Tuesday’s assembly meeting, tourism director Steve Auch announced he’d been approached by small ship cruise company American Cruise Lines about the potential for summer dockings. The company’s first port call in Haines is scheduled for June 17.

At Auch’s recommendation, the assembly voted unanimously to direct interim manager Alekka Fullerton to work with the Alaska Municipal League (AML) on a set of regional guidelines for the tourism industry that prioritize public health.

Auch said he and others involved in tourism in Haines had been contacted by American Cruise Lines and had received copies of their COVID-19 mitigation plans.

In general, the plan looks pretty good, but there’s room for improvement, Auch said. He said other communities in Southeast Alaska have also raised concerns and are participating in an AML working group to create guidelines to allow the industry to return.

These guidelines are likely to take the form of an ongoing dialog with small cruise ship operators, Alaska Municipal League executive director Nils Andreassen said. He said most port communities in the state are participating in the discussion in some form.

Ideas under discussion include frequent COVID-19 testing and temperature taking, capacity limits on board ships, social-distancing protocol during shore visits, use of face coverings, quarantine procedures, plans for dealing with sick passengers and contact tracing, Andreassen said.

“The overall intent is to mitigate risk in relation to public health while ensuring economic benefit from that activity,” Andreassen said.

During Tuesday’s assembly meeting, Auch used the example of a requirement that tour operators fill buses to a certain percentage of capacity. “While (limiting capacity) seems like a great plan from a mitigation standpoint,” it could become an economic hinderance for tour operators if the percentage is too low, he said. Guidelines will need to strike a balance.

It is in the borough’s best interest to partner with other Southeast communities to deliver a unified message to cruise companies through the Alaska Municipal League, Auch said. He asked that assembly members take action swiftly to give cruise lines time to plan accordingly.

The arrival of cruise ships will depend on a number of factors including the lifting of the state’s 14-day quarantine requirement for out-of-state travelers. The mandate is set to expire on June 2 unless extended by the governor.

Another measure discussed in relation to the potential arrival of cruise ships was the borough’s 14-day quarantine recommendation, which was set to expire at the end of the month.

At first, assembly member Stephanie Scott moved to extend the measure until the end of June. Others pointed out that this could keep cruise ships from visiting Haines.

In passing such an extension, “we’re basically closing the doors on small ships,” assembly member Gabe Thomas said.

After Scott withdrew her motion, assembly member Josephson replaced it with a motion to extend Haines’ 14-day quarantine recommendation until the state lifts its 14-quarantine requirement.

“I like us encouraging people to quarantine,” Josephson said. She said she thinks the measure is a good reminder.

Josephson said she feels comfortable tying the borough’s quarantine measure to the state’s because the state has been issuing good guidance with regard to COVID-19. Her motion passed 5-1. Assembly member Paul Rogers was the sole “no” vote.

“I think it is obvious that we’re nearing the end of this, and I would be happy to see it go away,” Rogers said before the vote.

Communities participating in the AML working group will need to sort out a number of questions as they shape tourism industry guidelines this summer.

At the assembly meeting, Auch raised the question of what happens if a cruise ship passenger is diagnosed with COVID-19. Cases requiring hospitalization will be medevacked and mild cases can self-quarantine. Communities will need to decide how they want to handle cases that are severe enough that a person should be moved closer to hospitals in Sitka or Juneau, but not severe enough that they qualify for medevac.

If the governor lifts the state’s quarantine requirement, any cruise ship arriving in Haines in June is likely to be relatively small. Most large cruise lines have cancelled Alaska sailings through the end of the summer, and Canadian ports remain closed through the end of June, at least.

At the same assembly meeting, members voted unanimously to extend the borough’s emergency declaration until the state lifts its own emergency declaration. Keeping the declaration in place ensures the borough continues to be able to access state and federal relief funds.


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