Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
, introduced the U.S. Cruise Ship Tourism Development Act of 1999. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Frank Murkowski (R-AK) are original co-sponsors.
"Allowing cruise ships to travel between U.S. ports will be a huge victory for port cities, the cruise ship industry, and create great traveling options for the public," McCain said. "The status quo is not serving anyone's interest. We must work with the cruise ship industry, ports, and the unions to make changes that can only result in benefits for all."
The bill, which also permits, under specific and limited circumstances, non-U.S. flag cruise vessels to temporarily operate in the U.S., would allow the Secretary of Transportation to issue permits to cruise ships already operating in other markets, to operate in the U. S. All permits expire on December 31, 2006.
The bill also provides incentives for cruise ship operators to bring vessels under the U.S. flag and to build ships domestically for future operations.
The Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886, restricts foreign-built cruise ships from traveling between U.S. ports. U.S. port calls on international itineraries are heavily concentrated in Florida and Alaska due to their close locale to neighboring countries.
"America's cruising public has been denied the opportunity to cruise to many attractive U.S. port destinations, and those ports have been denied the economic benefits of those visits because of a law that was written over 100 years ago," McCain said.
The bill encourages cruise trade by allowing large cruise vessels to reflag under the U.S. flag for operation in the U.S. until December 31, 2006. Cruise ships must apply and be approved within three years after enactment.
During the first year after enactment, a foreign flag cruise vessel could run in the domestic trade for no more than two weeks on a repositioning voyage or charter. Any permit issued to a foreign flag cruise vessel would expire after the vessel has sailed for 200 operating days in the U.S. domestic cruise trades or until December 31, 2006, whichever arrives first.
To be eligible for a permit to operate in the domestic cruise trades, a cruise vessel must have been delivered after January 1, 1980, and follow certain guidelines such as providing a full range of overnight accommodations, dining and entertainment services; as well as being compliant with the Safety of Life at Sea Requirements for a fixed smoke detection and sprinkler system in accommodation areas.