Don’t impede cruise ships from mainland to Hawaii
The Bush administration has proposed that foreign-flagged liners take longer at foreign ports between the mainland and Hawaii.
A large segment of Hawaii's tourism by sea faces a possible torpedo in a proposal by the Bush administration to block foreign-flagged liners from operating between the mainland and Hawaii with a token stop in Mexico. The proposal, supported by U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, would toughen protectionist barriers to the extent of cutting off cruise trips from the West Coast and should be severely tailored before taking effect.
Numerous cruise lines now operate between San Diego and Hawaii. They make brief stops in Ensenada, Mexico, about 50 miles south of the U.S. border, to comply with an 1886 law intended to protect the U.S. maritime industry by banning direct routes by foreign ships between American ports.
A sharp decline in U.S. shipbuilding prompted 2004 legislation sponsored by Sen. Daniel Inouye to allow Norwegian Cruise Line, operating as NCL America, to sail its three foreign-built ships under a U.S. flag in island waters without having to stop at a foreign port. The 1886 law's requirement that U.S.-flagged ships must be built in America is obsolete because domestic shipbuilding has virtually closed shop.
NCL announced last year that it plans to send Pride of Hawaii, one of its ships, to Europe next month. The company said financial problems stemmed from its addition to the Hawaii fleet in the summer of 2006, adding that competition from the West Coast added to its financial struggle.
NCL also experienced difficulty with staff turnover because of a federal requirement that three-fourths of its crew be American citizens and the remainder be green-card holders. Inouye and Abercrombie got the law changed last year so other visa holders can be included in the 25 percent.
Under the current proposal, foreign-flagged cruise liners would have to make a 48-hour stop in a foreign port, stay there more than half the time spent at U.S. ports of call and permit passengers to go ashore at the foreign port. It is proposed by the Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.
The clear intention is to turn an inconvenience into a decisive impediment to foreign-flagged cruise ships now traveling between California and Hawaii. A more reasonable approach would be to require that foreign cruise lines -- and cargo shippers -- making regular trips between American ports comply with U.S. law, including labor and environmental requirements.
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