Proposed rule feared to sink U.S. cruise industry


A proposed federal rule could extend the stay American cruise ship passengers get in a foreign port.

That proposed rule, from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, would require passenger cruise ships to spend at least half of each voyage in ports outside the United States.

That could prevent future expansion at the Port of Galveston, an American Association of Port Authorities spokesman said Thursday.

Aaron Ellis, American Association of Port Authorities spokesman, said Galveston currently does not have any cruise ships that travel to other U.S. ports, but a rule requiring foreign-flagged cruise ships to stop at foreign ports for at least 48 hours before docking at another U.S. port would make it a difficult option in the future.

Ron Baumer, whose Beaumont travel agency depends on cruise bookings for about 30 percent of his business, said he thinks the Port of Galveston’s cruise industry eventually could become obsolete if the rule is implemented.

“It would drastically affect the cruise business in the United States,” Baumer, president of Beaumont Travel Consultants Inc., said. “I don’t see how the industry could survive with (the rule).”

Baumer’s prediction: four-day cruises would disappear, five-day cruises would make one stop instead of two and seven-day cruises would make two stops instead of three.

Most ships, Baumer said, dock for eight hours at foreign port. The 48-hour rule (those 48 hours must equal at least half of the time the ship spends at U.S. stops) plus the 48-hours it takes the ship to get to the port and back will add another day to the ship’s itinerary, Baumer said.

Baumer said 60 percent of his clients take four or five-day cruises, the other 40 percent take seven-day cruises.

If foreign-flagged cruise ships are required to stop at foreign ports for at least 48 hours before docking at another U.S. port, Ellis said passengers might start bypassing the United States and booking their trips out of foreign countries.

The cruise lines that operate out of the Port of Galveston – Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International – have ships that carry foreign flags.

Michael Mierzwa, the Port of Galveston’s deputy director, said port officials were aware of the rule but said it was too early to tell what the possible effect on Galveston would be.

Ellis said U.S. Customs and Border Protection recommended the rule to help ships that operate in the Hawaiian cruise trade.

The rule is not a bill that will go through Congress, Ellis said.

“Agencies like the (U.S. Maritime Administration) and (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) have the authority to change rules as long s they don’t have a major impact on the nation,” he said. “We think this one will.”

Charlie Gibbs, owner of Cameo Sabine Neches Travel Agency, said he isn’t too concerned yet, especially since Galveston won’t feel the effects of the rule – if it’s implemented – right away.

“We don’t know what the ramifications are,” Gibbs said. “We’ll just have to wait and see. It sounds more ominous than it probably will be.”