OTTAWA — The cruise-ship season in Canada is all but sunk as Ottawa extends its ban on large ships in Canadian waters until the end of October in an attempt to contain COVID-19.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Thursday passenger ships with overnight accommodations for more than 100 people — including both passengers and crew — can’t operate in Canadian waters until at least Oct. 31.
The move extends and expands an order issued in mid-March that barred ships with more than 500 passengers from Canadian waters until July.
Ships with more than 12 passengers can’t go to the Arctic until at least Oct. 31, for fear that one might carry COVID-19 to a remote northern community.
Other than that, after July 1, provincial and regional health officials will decide when and where smaller vessels can operate.
“Keeping Canadians and transportation workers safe continues to be my top priority during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Garneau said.
Garneau said he also understands this will create a significant economic hardship for Canada’s tourism industry. He indicated the federal tourism department is working on a plan to help.
Last year 140 cruise ships brought more than two million visitors to Canadian ports. A 2016 study found the cruise industry was large and growing, contributing more than $3 billion to Canada’s economy, including nearly $1.4 billion in direct spending by cruise lines and their passengers. More than 23,000 Canadians were directly or indirectly employed because of cruise ships.
British Columbia, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces benefit the most.
“The human impact is dramatic, there’s no question about it,” said Charlottetown Harbour Authority CEO Mike Cochrane. “To see it all come to a halt, it’s a very sad day for us.”
The cruise industry’s direct and indirect economic impact to Prince Edward Island topped $52 million last year, he said. Until the pandemic hit, projections for the season — late April to late October in PEI — hovered around $60 million.
“You look at mom-and-pop shops, restaurants, tour bus operators, taxis, Green Gables — it reaches everywhere,” Cochrane said.
He and other officials linked to the cruise industry said they understood that the health and safety of local residents comes first. “There’s no road map for this pandemic, so all you can really do is roll up your sleeves and put your heart into rebuilding it,” Cochrane said.
Home ports — where vessels are based — such as Vancouver or Quebec City stir up even more economic activity than ports of call as cruise lines stock up on fuel, food, alcohol, bedding and other supplies.
Industrial sectors feel the ripple effects of the virus too. A massive federally owned dry dock just west of Victoria typically supplements its work for the Royal Canadian Navy with cruise ship contracts.
“When one of those cruise ships is getting refit, there can be up to 800 people working intensely for several weeks,” said Barry Penner, a spokesman for Cruise Lines International Association — North West and Canada.
The refurbishments can include everything from new carpets to fresh bathroom fixtures, cabinetry, sonar, telecommunications and wastewater treatment systems, providing business to regional companies.
Cruise ships were one of the first- and worst-hit sectors from COVID-19 with hundreds of passengers falling ill on ships as they sailed in various parts of the world. Transport Canada monitored hundreds of ships with Canadians on board as they battled outbreaks, or weren’t allowed to dock in planned ports as countries closed to foreign tourists to keep COVID-19 out.
Several hundred Canadians were flown back to Canada and quarantined in Trenton, Ont., and Cornwall, Ont. after disembarking ships with outbreaks on them that docked in Japan and California. At least a dozen passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship were diagnosed with COVID-19 after being quarantined in Trenton. One Canadian passenger who had been on board the Diamond Princess died in Japan in March after being hospitalized with COVID-19.
Despite lingering health concerns, cruise bookings for 2021 are already up “drastically” from 2019, said Dennis Campbell, chief executive at Ambassatours Gray Line.
“It shows that there’s lot of pent-up demand. And avid cruisers, they love their cruises,” said Campbell, whose 33-year-old company operates boat tours in all four Atlantic provinces, offers bus tours in Niagara Falls, Ont., and runs Halifax’s largest waterfront restaurant.
The sunny outlook at Ambassatours echoes recent forecasts of a rebound by next year from some of the world’s largest cruise operators, including Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. and Carnival Corp.
“The big cruise lines wouldn’t be able to borrow the billions of dollars that they’re borrowing to stay in business if they didn’t have a really solid plan to go forward,” Campbell said, adding that his company aims to secure long-term financing within a couple weeks.
Health measures could include lower capacity overall or for public spaces on board, temperature screening at ports and heightened hygiene and cleaning protocols.
“There’s no margin for error,” Campbell said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2020.
The Canadian Press