Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File                                 Cruise ship visitors gather for their tours on the Seawalk on Sept. 13, 2017.

Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File Cruise ship visitors gather for their tours on the Seawalk on Sept. 13, 2017.

Port of Seattle cancels season’s first sailings

Concerns over coronavirus prompted cancellations

As concerns about the spread of the coronavirus grow and federal authorities issue warnings against cruise-ship travel, the Port of Seattle announced it has canceled April 1 and 5 sailings for the 2020 cruise ship season.

“This region is in a public health emergency and we will cancel the first two sailings of our cruise season,” said Port of Seattle Commission President Peter Steinbrueck in a release. “The health, safety, and well being of our residents is our top priority.”

The announcement comes just days after the U.S. State Department issued a warning against cruise ship travel. Non-essential travel should be avoided the department’s travel advisory said, as well as large crowds.

Cancellations and reduced cruise ship travel are likely to affect Juneau’s tourism industry. The visitor industry makes up 18% of Southeast Alaska’s economy and workers in the industry brought in more than $249 million in earnings in 2018, according to regional development corporation Southeast Conference.

At the same time Seattle canceled its first two sailings of the season, British Columbia’s top doctor also advised against cruise ship travel, the CBC reported.

In a statement, City and Borough of Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt said Seattle port officials had informed him of the decision prior to making the announcement.

“That closure is part of Washington state’s response to limiting the spread of COVID-19,” Watt said in a release. “Many members of the public are communicating to myself and the Assembly about the upcoming cruise ship season. We completely understand the community concerns.”

Potential impacts of the virus were raised at a special Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night. At that meeting Mike Tibbles of the Cruise Lines International Association told Assembly members the situation was evolving on a day-to-day basis, and the industry was taking steps to make people feel safe booking a cruise.

The industry had been working with governments to implement new screening protocols, and passengers who had recently traveled to certain areas would be denied passage.

“These are the policies that are in place, and those are on top of the long standing health policies in the industry,” Tibbles said at the meeting Monday.

Cruise ship company stocks had dropped and that President Trump said he would seek to provide assistance to the cruise industry, airlines and hotels adversely affected by the mass cancellation of plans, the Washington Post reported Monday.

The city is working daily on the coronavirus issue daily, Watt said, and there was a good amount of time before the start of the cruise-ship season.

“Cruise ships with passengers are not scheduled to come to Southeast until late April. Much will happen between now and then,” Watt said. “CBJ’s management of our port will be in accordance with guidance from the State of Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.

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