U.S. Customs and Border Protection has proposed new regulations that, if approved, could severely affect the cruise industry.
The proposal requires foreign-flagged cruise ships (most cruise ships operating in the U.S. market are foreign-flagged) departing a U.S. port to spend 48 hours in a foreign port during each cruise and 24 hours in a foreign port for every two days in an American port. The proposed regulation is an attempt to reinterpret the Passenger Vessels Services Act of 1886 in a way that will protect U.S.-flagged cruise ships in the Hawaiian market but will also apply to all U.S. cruise markets.
The 1886 law prohibits foreign-flagged ships from transporting passengers directly between U.S. ports. But this prohibition is skirted by ships that, for example, sail from San Diego to Hawaii and make a brief stop in Mexico along the way. Last year, Norwegian Cruise Lines, which operates three U.S.-flagged ships solely in the Hawaiian market, announced plans to withdraw <i>Pride of Hawaii</i> from that market and redeploy it to Europe because of increasing competition from foreign-flagged ships.
Cruise industry and tourism officials are concerned that if the proposed rule is universally applied, it will damage the industry, as it may force cruise lines to limit their itineraries.
"If the interpretation is to affect every cruise itinerary beginning and ending at a U.S. port, the economic impact of this proposed rule would be staggering, implicating every cruise port and itinerary in the U.S.," said J. Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines, in a letter commenting on the proposed regulation.
In a comment letter, Amy Powers, director of CruiseMaine (an association of Maine’s cruise ports) wrote, “The implications for our cruise ports could be devastating. We believe it could eliminate nearly every future foreign-flag cruise ship port of call to Maine ports.”
The comment period for the proposed regulation ended in December, and the adoption of a final rule could be announced at any time.