The cruise ship Zaandam, which is registered in the Netherlands, sits at anchor off Bar Harbor in this 2019 file photo. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

Canada’s extended cruise ship ban until February 2022 makes it unlikely that any big ships will stop in Maine this year.

Cruise ships were among the early epicenters a year ago in the global COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted many countries to prohibit the ships from carrying passengers in their territorial waters. Prohibitions enacted in Canada and the U.S. last year resulted in no ships making stops in Maine ports in 2020.

Maine’s cruise ship season, which extends from summer through fall, attracts hundreds of ship visits each year from large foreign-flagged vessels, which by law have to include a foreign port on each cruise itinerary in order to visit an American port. If they cannot sail to Canada, the foreign ships are not allowed to make stops in Maine.

Bar Harbor and Portland, Maine’s two busiest cruise ship destinations, had 235 visits scheduled between the two of them for 2021 before Canada announced the extension of its ban last week. Those included visits from smaller, U.S-flagged ships that typically cruise along Maine’s coast but do not travel into Canadian waters.

A few hundred thousand cruise ship passengers visit Maine ports every summer and fall, with the vast majority of them arriving on large, foreign-flagged ships on their way to or from Quebec and Nova Scotia. Sarah Flink of CruiseMaine, the state’s cruise ship marketing entity, said that only 6 percent of cruise ship passengers in Maine sail on smaller American-based vessels.

TRACKING THE CORONAVIRUS IN MAINE

Flink said that when including smaller cruise ship ports such as Rockland and Eastport, around 400 total cruise ship visits have been scheduled in Maine for 2021.

“People want to know what the Canadian announcement means for us here in Maine, but at this early date, it’s still too early to know for sure,” Flink said Monday. “We believe it will certainly impact us, but we are trying to gauge the full extent of that impact.”

Eben Salvatore, a Bar Harbor hotel executive and chairman of the town’s cruise ship committee, said Monday that the extension of the Canadian ban for another whole year “was a surprise.” Local officials weren’t really expecting a normal cruise ship season, he said, but it will be “devastating” to have a second summer and fall with few or no ships.

“Cruise ships aren’t just a sideshow,” Salvatore said, adding that they generate more than $1 million in direct revenue for the town each year, and between $20 million and $30 million for the island’s tourism industry.

Many Bar Harbor tourism businesses survived 2020 because of extraordinary flexibility from banks and landlords, Salvatore said, but that generosity is not going to last forever.

Last week, members of Congress from Alaska, a popular cruise ship destination in late spring and early summer, criticized Canada’s extension of its ban, according to the Associated Press. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young said they were “exploring all potential avenues, including changing existing laws, to ensure the cruise industry in Alaska resumes operations as soon as it is safe.”

Municipal officials in Portland did not return messages seeking comment Monday afternoon.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....