Posted by: cruise2 | 8 May, 2008

Passenger Services Act (United States)

This summary of the above act is courtesy of Princess Cruises)

It is important to be aware of the effect that the Passenger Services Act (PSA) has on certain combined itineraries. The Passenger Services Act prohibits ships of non-U.S. registry from embarking and disembarking passengers at two different U.S. ports.

Such travel would constitute point-to-point transportation between two U.S. ports, a practice prohibited on foreign flagged vessels.  Virtually all cruise vessels are foreign-flagged; therefore must adhere to the requirements of the Passengers Services Act.

An exception to this general rule allows passengers to be transported between two U.S. ports if the cruise itinerary includes a port call at a “distant foreign port”. 

Distant foreign ports do NOT include Canada, Mexico, Central America, Bermuda and most Caribbean islands.  South America and the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao) do qualify as distant foreign ports. 

The Passenger Services Act (PSA) became law in 1886 and has been a part of U.S. cabotage law ever since. The law was designed to protect the United States domestic transportation industries (as applicable to both merchant and passenger vessels). The PSA grants U.S. flagged vessels the right to transport cargo and passengers between U.S. ports.

Here are some examples of legal and illegal itineraries:

A cruise originating and terminating in Ft. Lauderdale is permitted since passengers were returned to their original port of embarkation and, thus, no point-to-point transportation occurred.  A cruise originating in Ft. Lauderdale and terminating in Los Angeles is permitted providing that the cruise itinerary includes a South American port or one of the ABC (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao) islands.

A cruise originating in Los Angeles or Seattle and terminating in Whittier is NOT permitted since the cruise originates and terminates in different U.S. cities and does not call at a distant foreign port

Distant foreign ports do NOT include Canada, Mexico, Central America, Bermuda and most Caribbean islands.  South America and the ABC islands do qualify as distant foreign ports.

In addition, passengers may travel between 2 U.S. ports if they travel on 2 different ships as Passenger Services Act violations are ship-specific. A violation occurs when a ship (not two ships) transports passengers between two different U.S. ports.

Even if the passengers disembark completely from the 1st voyage and then return to the pier to embark the 2nd voyage – it is still a violation of the PSA.

Interesting stuff courtesy of Princess Cruises.

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  1. To: Cruise People, LTD.

    Currently there are non-US flag ships carrying passengers one way from Vancouver, BC to Whittier, Alaska(a Canadien to US port); which is quite legal. Therefore it should also be legal for ships to carry passengers between Juneau, Alaska and Victoria, BC; isn’t that correct?
    This question is in response to a debate that I am having with a a so-called cruise expert. That you very much, I look forward to your email.
    Arthur Hill

    • I agree it seems logical. Over the years though I have seen government agencies be quite arbitrary, and illogical in my opinion, and cause frustration to the lines and pasengers. So I agree with your logic but know the problems. Rgds John Lang

  2. What if I’m taking the Hawaiian Cruise from Honolulu? Pride of America is considered as an US flagship cruise. Does this mean that I can disembark on another port like Kauai?

    • It will depend on NAL policy but there’s nothing illegal that I can see. Is there the infrastructure at the port to handlt disembarking passengers – I don’t think it would be a difficulty with a “one off” 🙂 You would most likely have to pay for the cruise as though you were taking the entire voyage, since you stopped the line from selling the cabin for the entire voyage.

    • I’m taking a cruise next year, wanted to get off and stay in Kauai for 5 days. NCL says I have to go back to Honolulu than fly back to Kauai.

      • It’s an NCL ship so it calls the shots. I would have suspected it would have let you do that but you’d have to pay for the entire cruise with no refund for the unused portion. Their may be some logistical/security problem I’m not aware of.

  3. What if you pay for a cruise leaving from Seattle going to New Zealand and you decide to embark in Hawaii instead of Seattle?

    • Would have to have approval from line. Have done it for clients over the years. With modern security procedures you never know but I can’t see a problem myself.

  4. I embark in foreign flag vessel leaving Los Angleles. Next stop Hilo HI, then Honolulu HI, then Nawiliwili HI, then Lahaina Maui, then Ensenada Mexico, then disembark in Los Angeles. During this voyage, if I keep my cabin, may I get off in Hilo and rejoin the ship in Maui before it proceeds to Ensenada?

  5. My preceding question deals with getting off the ship in Hilo and returning in Maui, all within the limits of the state of Hawaii. Also, I would keep the cabin while I was off.

  6. I’ve seen where Puerto Rico and St. Thomas are exempt from the act. Does that mean I can take a cruise sailing out of New York and disembark in San Juan without worrying about “distant ports”?

    Carnival Cruises have said that yes, I can do that if I pay for the entire cruise.

    NCL has said that I could if I have the permission of the Captin, in advance by Fax.

    I own a vacation home in Puerto Rico and my partner can no longer fly for health reasons.

    How do you read the law regarding Puerto Rico?

    The cruise agents can tell me whatever they want over the phone, but I’m not sure I trust their knowledge.

    • Haven’t done a port-to-port booking for some time but your info rings true. If you wish give me a call to discuss your needs. 1-800-961-5536.

      • In May of this year we were able to book a round trip out of Miami that had a stop in Puerto Rico. We were allowed to disembark in San Juan with the Captains approval a week in advance of sailing.

        On Sept. 20th we were permitted to join a round trip cruise that had departed from NYC with a stop in San Juan, again with the Captains approval a week in advance.

        In both instances, we were personally escorted by a customs official and it was no problem at all.

        Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are exempt from the Jones Act.

  7. Today we tried to book a back to back cruise with Princess. Due to this act, we could not do it. The first cruise was from NYC to Quebec City, Canada. This cruise would stop in both US and Canadian ports. We were not allowed to return on the same ship, which spent two nights in Quebec City and then stop in both Canadian ports and ended in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The fact that we were beginning and ending in a US port and Canada is not considered a foreign port, we could not do it on the same ship. Since we live in CA. the air in and out of Quebec City does not work for us. Too many changes and too long. This is alot of revenue for US ports to loose since in most of them we would spend two or more days. We would have spent five days in FL. alone. Plus 3 days each in NYC, 2 in Maine, 2 in Boston and 2 in Newport, RI. This 1886 law does not belong in 2011.

  8. So why is it that nobody has a Hawaii cruise that starts and ends in Honolulu? I don’t want to waste four days at sea each way from the mainland. It seems to me this would be exactly the same as your example of Ft. Lauderdale to Ft. Lauderdale.

    • Pride of America sails every Saturday, round trip from Honolulu, Bruce.

      • I guess I should have clarified my question and asked why no “foreign registered” ship makes that cruise as the Pride of America is US registered. I had a discussion (argument) with one of your booking agents on my last Princess cruise about this very question. She insisted that it was because of the Passenger Services Act but I see nothing in that that would prohibit such a cruise.

      • Could not have been with a Cruise People agent. No ladies are involved with South Pacific programme. You may recall years ago NCL sailed round-trip to Fanning Island. Time to look for an alternative to Princess?

      • It was a Princess agent aboard one of their cruises I took.

  9. Just today we were rejected embarkation in Hawaii by Princess hiding behind this Act. We had booked a two-week cruise round trip Hawaii cruise for our 40th wedding anniversay but couldn’t make the embarkation in Los Angeles due to the unexpected death of an immediate family member. We called and E-mailed Princess and were told we could not fly to Hawaii and get on the ship for the last 9 days of the cruise due to this Act. And of course they wouldn’t refund any of our money because the cancellation date had passed and shame on us we didn’t buy their trip insurance. To top it off, they didn’t inform us when we called them three days before the cruise that we could have substituted some friends to take our place but send us an E-mail that we got 1.5 hours before close of business that we could substitute another couple if we notified them by close of business that day! Princess just lost a lot of business from these frequent cruisers and any friends we influence.

    • I am sorry for your bereavement. Might you have insurance, perhaps through your credit card by which you could make a claim?

  10. Thank you, Bruce, for clarification.

  11. Thanks Cruise2. I’m trying through my credit card trip cancellation insurance but they’ll probably deny since their definition of immediate family is a spouse, dependent child or someone else living in my house but it was my wife’s father that died.

  12. Hi, Ken. It seems pretty clear, your interpretation. It might be prudent to double check – those are pretty restricted relatives. The travel insurance we sell would have included your in-laws but not necessarily “someone else ” living in your house. Good luck.

  13. that really sucks, at least american passengers should be exempt of custom inspections since hawaii is on U.S. soil.

  14. If i bought a cruise from Vancouver to Seatlle, can I fly to Alaska and do a embarkation in Ketchikan, Alaska and desembark in Seattle???

    • Please provide details – cruise line/etc.

  15. My wife and I would like to travel from either NY or Florida, and get off a ship mid cruise, in San Juan. PR. We have looked at several itineraries, and several cruise lines. All of the ships – except for one, the Norwegian Gem, which goes directly from NY to PR – stop at a “foreign” port: either St. Maarten, Labadee, Haiti, or Grand Turks/Caicos,
    When contacted, each of the cruise lines advised we would be violating the Jones Act (the Norwegian Gem, Celebrity Constellation), Cruise Line policy (MSC Divina, all Carnival Ships) or some combination of both (Holland America’s Eurodam and Westerdam – Holland America’s representatives didn’t seem to know what we would be violating, only that we probably couldn’t do it). All of the cruises noted above sail between 11/29 and 12/1/2014, which is when we want to go.
    We have taken similar trips before; leaving from a US port, stopping in a Caribbean foreign port, and disembarking in San Juan. We did this as recently as November 2013 on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas. We have previously done it on Carnival as well. When I advised the Cruise Line representatives of this, they told me that these are new policies (or, in the case of Celebrity, their new interpretation of the Jones Act) and they no longer will allow us to do this. In each case, I asked to speak to a supervisor, and/or members of the cruise line’s Emergency Travel Team, and asked them to double check their answer. Though I have not always been successful in speaking directly with these specialized representatives, the answer I received back was always the same: we could not disembark in San Juan.
    One last thing: Several of the cruise lines indicated that we COULD get off in San Juan, but we would have to pay a $300 per person fine, either for violating the Jones Act (Norwegian Gem), or for “breaking the voyage” (MSC Divina). This fine would be in addition to the full cruise cost, which I expected to pay.
    I do not fly due to phobia related medical reasons. My wife and I have family in Puerto Rico with whom we would like to visit during the winter holidays. Can you help us, or provide advice? Thank you.

    • I don’t understand the low fine. As I recall it was in the thousands. Might there be a vessel calling at a nearby foreign port with a ferry service to Puerto Rico?

      • I don’t consider $300 per person to be a low fine, especially since I don’t believe I would be in violation of the Jones Act in the first place. However, it might all be a moot point since, after I contacted them several times, Celebrity has apparently reversed their decision, and told me i could disembark in San Juan. They told me that once I have a booking number, they would send me an official letter of approval to disembark. I’ll let you know if they stick to their word.

      • Pleased to hear.

  16. I have been told that the reason an Alaskan cruise that departs from Seattle, visits various ports in Alaska has to stop at a Canadian port (Victoria, B.C.) before it returns to Seattle is the Jones Act. No, no, the other person says, it’s not the Jones Act that requires that, it’s the Passenger Services Act. I have reviewed both of these acts on Wikipedia (admittedly, not an official legal source, but a heck of a lot easier to read than legal sources!) and can’t figure out if either of them truly apply. For example, the PSA says that neither Canada nor Mexico are “distant foreign ports” which is where a stop is required. The Jones Act, again, as I read it, does not apply because the passengers are not transported between ports, they get on at Seattle and get back off at Seattle. So my question is, what requires the cruise ships to stop in Canada at some time between when they depart Seattle and when they return to Seattle?

    Two other questions along these same lines are: 1) If I get on the ship at Seattle, and get off the ship in, say, Skagway, I would appear to be in violation of the PSA. I would suspect that the cruise line would have to report this violation to somebody in the gov. to cover themselves. I would also suspect that I would be responsible for the resulting fine and not the cruise line, correct?; 2) A passenger on a cruise becomes ill on the cruise and is taken off the ship at a stop in Alaska for medical reasons. While this would, technically, be a violation of the PSA, are there provisions of the act that cover situations like this to eliminate any fine in these cases?

    Thanks, Tom.

    • Hi Tom:
      I’m no legal expert except I’ve been doing this for years. I know that the lines are paranoid about your situation and does everything to avoid it. I think the fine is in the thousands of dollars and yes it would go after you for reimbursement. Also in this day and age I’m not sure what would happen to you with Homeland Security. If it’s an emergency then everybody pulls together. Have you considered th Alaska Marine Highway to get there?

      • Oh, I’m not planning on cutting a cruise short, these were just questions of curiosity.i know of a case this past season where a family was on a ship on an Alaskan cruise and the mother was taken off the ship at a port in Alaska and was aerial medevaced back to Seattle where she later passed away and I was just wondering what would happen in a case such as that. I would have to think that there must be some way to avoid the fine since this was obviously not a “planned” event.

        But I do still wonder about how making a stop at a port in Canada gets around the requirement to stop at a “distant” foreign port since Canada and Mexico are both not considered to be “distant” ports and I know that cruise ships do stop at Victoria, B.C. and Ensenada Mexico to comply with the laws.

        Thanks for the reply and info!

  17. My husband and I are booked on two cruises in May and June. The first is from Ft. Lauderdale through the Panana Canal and disembarking in Vancouver, BC. with Holland America. We embark on the same day in Vancouver on an Alaskan Cruise with Princess Cruises disembarking in Whittier. We are Australian and have heard about this Jones Law or PSA via another Austalian who was affected and was not allowed to continue her cruise rom Vancouver. Naturally we are rather concerned and as yet have not been able to get a satisfactory answer. Can you help please?

  18. We have just discovered this act after booking with a large award-winning travel firm who adveritised a great back to back fly/cruise deal. We are awaiting a formal response from them due to Celebrity cruises advising that whilst we have booked Seattle – Alaska – Victoria – Vancouver on one leg (Celebrity Solstice), we cannot complete the second cruise (Vancouver – Honolulu) due to the Jones/PVSA acts. We are still in a bit of shock. Especially as our TA went to Celebrity to get the same cabin for both cruises. If we hadn’t of called them, we wouldn’t have known about this.
    Has anyone known their cruise to be cancelled by a line?

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