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Hawaiian punch: State wants impede cruise ships sailing from California

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On January - 12 - 2008

Scowling man A proposed federal rule change that could discourage foreign-flagged cruise ships from visiting Hawaii has set off an increasingly bitter dispute between Hawaiian state officials and California legislators. At issue is a proposed rule from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection service that would require foreign-flagged cruise ships operating out of U.S. ports to spend at least two days docked at a foreign port before returning to the U.S. All of the cruise lines operating out of California use ships flagged in foreign nations, an economic move made to escape expensive U.S. unions and federal maritime regulations

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the proposed rule change is aimed at preventing ships from California from briefly stopping in Baja California to fulfill a century-old law that prohibits foreign-flagged ships from plying U.S. ports without stopping in a foreign port. 

Currently, foreign-flagged vessels can only call at U.S. ports if they sail to another country, and the cruise lines operating three-or four-day trips out of California harbors routinely put in to Ensenada, Mexico, for a few hours to fulfill that requirement. The federal government has proposed requiring 48-hour foreign port calls instead.

“We’re dealing with 19th Century thinking here, the protection of a Hawaiian monopoly,” said Veronica Sanchez, spokeswoman for the Cruising America Coalition, a port and trade-group advocacy group. Rep. Bob Filner, a San Diego Democratic congressman, said the proposed regulation is aimed at helping U.S.-flagged cruise lines, but the only West Coast liner flying the Stars and Stripes is NCL America, which operates cruise ships in the Hawaiian Islands. “San Diego’s cruise industry generates over $300 million a year in economic impact for our city,” he told the Union-Tribune. “This proposed rule could change that and drastically impact our city’s tourism and economy.”

But NCL America’s vice president in Hawaii said his company needs a level playing field, but has a competitive disadvantage because its U.S.-flagged ships are assessed U.S. taxes, and because it has higher labor costs for its American employees. And Hawaiian Rep. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, says he has “no sympathy for somebody that’s trying to pull a fast one by avoiding taxes, health laws and environmental laws” by cloaking their ships with foreign flags.’

ExpertCruiser feels Abercrombie and other Hawaiian officials are out of line. While they may think they are protecting Hawaiian tourism the truth is they would be torpedoing it. The impediment to foreign-flagged cruise ships now traveling between California and Hawaii would be financially devastating to both states. The one thing about cruise ships is they move around. If government-sanctioned obstacles are put in their way the cruise lines will simply take their ships elsewhere. And, that would be devastating for the travel and tourism industry in both Hawaii and California.

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