No More “Technical Stops” in Ensenada for Hawaiian Cruisers?

When we took our cruise to Hawaii two years ago out of San Diego, we made a technical stop at 11pm in Ensenada in order to fulfill the requirement that a cruise vessel make a stop in a foreign port. This law is some times referred to as the Jones Act but I have recently learned that the law that actually refers to passengers is called the Passenger Service Vessel act. Regardless of what the actual law is called, it was passed in the late 1800 as a protectionist act to prevent foreign flagged ships from competing directly with US ships.

However, most cruise vessels, though owned by American companies, are foreign flagged in order for them to be able to staff their ships with non-American crew and hotel staff. These cruise ships provide much needed jobs to very talented and service oriented people from countries where they might not be able to find such employment in their home countries. The one notable exception in the mega cruise ship market is NCL America. These ships are staffed and crewed by a majority American workers and sail exclusively in Hawaiian waters. However, many experienced cruisers have expressed disappointment with the experience on the NCL America ships. They just found the level of service, quality of food, and over-all cruise experience to not be up to the level provided by the foreign flagged ships.

How does this law and NCL America’s struggle to provide a competitive cruise experience affect your cruising plans? There is a bit of online chatter going on right now that the Government is considering enforcing the Passenger Service Vessel act so that your stop in a foreign port must be the “actual object of the cruise” and not a just a “technical stop”. A “technical stop” is one like the one we made in Ensenada upon our return from Hawaii on our Celebrity Infinity cruise in 2005. We stopped at around 11 pm in Ensenda just to give our captain enough time to sign some paperwork. We then traveled on to San Diego to disembark the next morning. The online source of the chatter has come from an article on Modern Management. That website lists the Magazine Seatrade as their source for the information. The article directly attributes the crackdown on the struggles at NCL America.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency is proposing to fine cruise lines $300 per passenger for such violations. The rationale for the crackdown are the troubles facing NCL America, which obtained an exemption in 2003 to reflag foreign-built ships to U.S. registry so they can operate exclusively in Hawaii.

The proposed changes would require this stop to allow passengers to disembark and require it to last more than just a few minutes. Cruisers with round trip voyages to Hawaii from San Diego are already reporting that they are seeing changes intheir itineraries. Most are reporting a shortened stay in the Islands so the stop in Ensenada can be expanded to about 5 hours.

Here’s my opinion on all of this. The law is archaic and changing the way it is enforced will only benefit NCL America and hurt most other American interests. Cruise itineraries that used to be round trip out of San Diego or Los Angeles may now change to disembark in Ensenada. Cruise passengers will spend less money in Hawaii due to shortened tour and shopping times. NCL America got a great political deal when they launched. They should find a way to provide a competitive product without political maneuvering or simply leave the market. These changes will also affect Alaska cruises and may result in the elimination of the 7 night Alaska cruise out of Seattle. If you want to continue to have lots of cruising choices in and around Hawaii and Alaska, contact your law makers and urge them to not further tighten restrictions for no good reason.