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Maine stands to lose about 50 of its scheduled cruise ship visits this year, the result of a Canadian ban on cruise ship visits in that country until July 1.
The Canadian ban has such a large effect on Maine cruise ship visits because the majority of visits that Bar Harbor and Portland — Maine’s two busiest cruise ship ports — get each year are from foreign-flagged vessels that make stops in Maine while traveling to and from Canada. Those vessels have to stop in a foreign country under a 100-year-old federal law.
On Friday, officials in Canada prohibited cruise ships that can carry more than 500 passengers and crew from operating in Canadian waters until July 1.
“Further decisions on whether the [cruise ship] season can resume on July 1, 2020, will be based on science and evidence in the best interests of the health and safety of Canadians,” the agency Transport Canada said.
The U.S. State Department has advised Americans not to travel by cruise ship due to concerns about passengers and crew being especially prone to community transmission of the coronavirus in ships’ tight quarters. According to the World Health Organization, in the past few months more than 6,000 people globally have died from the disease.
According to CruiseMaine, a quasi-public entity that helps to market Maine as a cruise ship destination, federal law requires all foreign-flagged cruise ships to travel to a foreign country during each trip.
“This [law] is why nearly all our Maine cruise ship itineraries involve at least one Canadian port, the exception being American Cruise Line vessels, which are US-flagged. Logistical concerns, like long sailing times and high fuel costs, make any non-Canadian foreign port far less feasible for a cruise ship to visit in order to satisfy the requirements of [federal law],” the state Department of Economic and Community Development, which oversees CruiseMaine, said Tuesday.
Roughly 50 scheduled cruise ship visits to Maine this year stand to be affected by the Canadian ban and U.S. federal restrictions, state officials said.
“This amounts to roughly 80,000 to 90,0000 passengers who will not be able to come to Maine based upon their originally scheduled itineraries in April, May and June,” they said.
Jeff Dobbs, chairman of the Bar Harbor Town Council, said Tuesday that the town is expecting to lose all of its cruise ship business between late April and the end of June.
“We probably won’t see any cruise ships for a while,” Dobbs said Tuesday.
Most cruise ships stop in Maine in late summer and fall. Bar Harbor has 148 cruise ship visits scheduled between July 1 and early November, while Portland has 58 visits scheduled over that same time frame.
On Monday, the Bar Harbor Town Council met in emergency session to discuss how to handle the spread of the disease, which has resulted in schools closing and governments curtailing access to their facilities. At the meeting, the council decided to suspend two cruise ship visits scheduled for late April.
Victory II, which can carry roughly 300 passengers and crew members, had been scheduled to visit April 25. Zandaam, which can carry more than 2,000 passengers and crew members, was scheduled to visit the following day. With the April visits canceled, the first visit of the year would be on May 1.
COVID-19 concerns have prompted city officials in Portland, where more than 70 cruise ship visits have been scheduled for this year, to cancel their first two expected visits for 2020, both of which had been scheduled for April.
Overall, more than 700,000 cruise ship passengers and crew have been scheduled to visit Bar Harbor and Portland in 2020.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the timing of two cruise ship visits in Portland that have been canceled. The earlier version also contained inaccurate information provided by state officials about which federal law applies to foreign-flagged cruise ships operating in U.S. waters.