Win Gruening: Misconceptions about cruise industry need clarification

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By WIN GRUENING

Recently, Juneau resident Jennifer Pemberton penned an Anchorage Daily News op-ed in which she described a cruise that she took in August when she was required to pay a fine incurred due to her misunderstanding of a rule governing U.S. maritime travel.

Ms. Pemberton apparently purchased a 7-day cruise between Seward and Vancouver for herself and her son. Unbeknownst to the cruise line, she intended to leave the ship in Juneau. When disembarking in Juneau, after several days of what she portrayed as a wonderful experience, she was informed of her responsibility for a $1,882 fine levied by Customs and Border Protection for a violation of the Passenger Vessel Service Act (PVSA).

She said she was stunned and felt like a criminal. “We jumped ship and were now in a category with stowaways. We were in a building where the officers had guns and the signs were in many different languages.”  Her story has since spread far and wide on travel-related social media websites.

Most everyone in Southeast Alaska is familiar with the PVSA. It played a critical role in the economic downturn in Alaska during the pandemic as it requires foreign-built ships to originate, terminate, or transit a foreign port in order to carry U.S. domestic cruise passengers. 

Practically speaking, this means most Alaska cruises must visit Canada at some point during their voyage. Since Canada banned cruise ships during the pandemic, these cruises were effectively prevented from traveling to Alaska. Thanks to a limited exemption later brokered by Alaska’s congressional delegation, cruise lines eventually operated during the pandemic without stopping in Canada.

That exemption has now expired and, in leaving the ship before it reached Vancouver, Ms. Pemberton triggered this law, subjecting the cruise line to a fine, which they required her to reimburse.

Ms. Pemberton evidently didn’t realize the PVSA applied to her but cruise lines typically include verbiage in their cruise purchase contracts related to unauthorized disembarkation including reimbursement of any related fines incurred. Few passengers bother to read the fine print in their contract, but it’s somewhat ironic that Ms. Pemberton acknowledged that as a journalist who reported extensively on cruise industry impacts in Juneau as well as the PVSA she should have been aware of the rules.

If Ms. Pemberton had simply ended her opinion piece there, readers might have empathized with her mistake. After all, it was her first cruise ship experience and she was just getting her feet wet, as it were.

Instead, in venting her frustration she proceeded to lambaste the cruise industry with a litany of irrelevant half-truths and fallacies. She claimed cruise lines operate under the laxest labor laws and most advantageous tax schemes they can find, exploit loopholes right and left, and operate in Alaska with impunity. So, in her words, why should she be “the one who paid almost $2,000 in federal fines?”

In her parting shot, she says, “the way they get around the PVSA is by stopping in Canada.” Regrettably, she has that completely backwards. Foreign-built cruise ships are complying with the PVSA by stopping in Canada.

What Ms. Pemberton failed to mention is that the PVSA, originally passed by Congress to protect the shipbuilding and marine industries, has accomplished just the opposite. There are no longer any shipyards in the United States capable of building a cruise ship the size of the one on which she traveled. These ships are built overseas by necessity, travel globally, and are staffed necessarily by international crew members. Cruise vessels like these made it possible for her to book this cruise for only $299 plus taxes per person, which she admitted was “a screaming deal.”

Ms. Pemberton should feel good about what she finally paid including the fine. Smaller domestically-built cruise vessels operating in Southeast Alaska advertise 7-day cruises for $3,500 to $6,500 per person plus taxes. And they don’t offer bottomless baskets of fries, 24/7 ice cream, or the giant movie screens that she said she enjoyed.

The cruise industry in Alaska plays an out-sized role in our state economy, especially in the Southeast Alaska region. The industry’s financial impact cannot be overstated. Overall, the industry and the visitors they serve account for $3.0 billion of the state’s economy.

Certainly, these economic benefits don’t make the cruise industry immune from critique when warranted.

But the public is not well-served with the biased misconceptions promoted in Pemberton’s opinion piece. 

After retiring as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in Alaska, Win Gruening became a regular opinion page columnist for the Juneau Empire. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is involved in various local and statewide organizations.

Win Gruening: Juneau Assembly’s Transparency Deficit Disorder

22 COMMENTS

  1. All you need to know about Karen is in her LinkedIn Bio. The wokeness and entitlement jump out.

    She’s been in SE long enough, as a “curious human” (yeah, she calls herself that) to know the cruise lines take it really, really badly if you just disappear off the boat.

    She’s also been in SE long enough to what PVSA was, why it existed, and when it ended. After all, it was covered extensively by her own organization KTOO. It was a community wide topic for a year as we struggled to figure out how to work around Fascist Canada (rant for another day).

    Karen did a Karen. She either isn’t quite the “curious human” she claims to be, or like many on the left, the rules don’t apply to her.

    Guess what sunshine? They do.

    It’s also telling she didn’t vent her spleen in the Empire, but took it to Pravda in Anchorage. It wouldn’t play too well here. We may not like the cruise industry, but we know we rely on it.

    • Folks, can we stop using “Karen” as a pejorative? Like a number of other common names used to slander (like Dick, Peter, John, etc…) Karen is a beautiful name – it means “joy”. Invent a new word if you must – who knew what “dweeb” meant 40 years ago – but lay off crushing the spirits of many with that name who don’t fit the pejorative.
      Meanwhile, the complainer reminds me of an old John Prine tune: Dear Jenny, dear Jenny, you have no complaint; you are what you are and you ain’t what you ain’t. Now listen up buster and listen up good, quit wishin’ for bad luck and knockin’ on wood. (apologies to John Prine, a great folk artist, who wrote this tune “Dear Abby”).

    • I’m what way?

      The failure to understand the basics of life in our community, or the sense of entitlement that rules don’t apply to her?

      Inquiring people want to know.

  2. Sorry, but I am laughing. Once again, here we have an uppity Juneau resident crying about lack of *insert complaint*. The capitol of Alaska needs to be moved to mainland Alaska and Juneau needs to become dependent on its tourism and fishing industries like all the other coastline villages.

    • Ginny, Juneau happens to be hard fixed to an Island called North America, as for productivity Juneau far out strips the gross domestic product of Anchorage. For example, what does Anchorage produce? Nada. Little Whack Job Leftist Juneau boasts the biggest Silver Producer in North America,(8 million oz AG per Year) plus another World Class Gold mine, along with one of the biggest fishing fleets in Alaska, the cherry on top? Over a million tourists per year arrive on the Big Off Shore Owned Tour Ships.
      Yes, please move the disease of Government from Juneau to the Peoples Republic of Anchorage, which is already the BIGGEST WELFARE ECONOMY in Alaska, very fitting. And BTW, not sure how long you’ve been in Alaska, but you might brush up a bit on your geography.

  3. Why do we still have the “Jones Act?” What lobbyists are benefiting from it and blocking its repeal?

    I thought the Jones Act applied to ships, not passengers.

    • The Jones Act applies to cargo ships while the PVSA applies to passenger ships. Both are similar in that they require stops in foreign ports for ships not built in America.

      Interesting question as to why either law still exists. You will have to ask the shipping and maritime unions why that is….

    • The Jones Act applies to cargo vessels; the PVSA is the version for passenger ships. In any case the law does indeed apply to the ship, but as part of the contract of carriage most cruise lines require that passengers reimburse them if the passenger disembarks early and triggers a fine under the PVSA.

  4. My sense is that after reading her column in the Anchorage Daily News, thinking readers perceived her as a huge fool on a rant.

    • Is that why Liberal Democrats who advocate for communism have our southern border wide open? Who picks all the grapes in the Democrat haven of Napa Valley?

    • Frankie Boy, Your Comment is so weird because I recall seeing an entire transportation service in Juneau devoted to nothing but the transporting of Cruise Ship Workers who were from Third World S-Hole countries from their ship in port to… wait for it Frankie, COSTCO! Yup, the exploited people on the ships made enough to send home stuff purchased from COSTCO in Juneau to their Third world S-Hole Countries. Imagine that Frank.
      So tell me again what you remember from Mao/Lenin 101 about Capitalism exploiting workers?

  5. I agree that Pemberton didn’t need to criticize the cruise industry for something her government did to her. However, in my view she is owed by the individual federal employees that did this to her! Alaska should NOT allow US Customs agents to live here. In this instance the Customs Gestapo were no better than were the National Park Service employees that accosted John Sturgeon in his hovercraft. They are the culpable party, not the cruise industry.

  6. this is exactly why my profession is taking off again.

    had she used the LOCAL TRAVEL AGENT IN JUNEAU (cough), I would have told her she can’t do this, she needs to start from Vancouver.

    but instead, we are dealing with a generation of people who want to use the internet for everything, think they have it all, instead of talking to professionals who can help her navigate what she’s doing. Not everything is public information and you need that help from someone who has been there, done that, or in this case – stretch the rules.

    Unless she knew this all along and wanted a “news story” for her…

  7. Are you telling me as an “American”, I cannot get on and then off a ship that’s still in America? I “MUST” travel to a foreign country? No thanks. I will get on and off as I please. You cannot “MAKE” me stay on the ship and go to a foreign country.

    • No one says you can’t get off the ship. The law says that a foreign vessel cannot transport passengers solely between American ports just like foreign airlines can’t operate domestic flights within the United States. If a cruise line violates this law they are fined (apparently $1,882 per passenger); the fine is NOT against the passenger as the passenger committed no crime – the cruise line committed a crime by transporting them solely between American ports using a foreign ship. That being said, if you read the fine print on the “contract of carriage” it likely states that IF you choose to jump ship in a manner that generates a fine for the cruise line, you must reimburse the cruise line for said fine.

Comments are closed.