Longshoremen secure the Royal Caribbean ship Serenade of the Seas to Ketchikan’s cruise ship docks on July 9, 2021. Port staff are “highly encouraged” to be vaccinated against COVID-19 under a proposed agreement between Royal Caribbean and Ketchikan’s city government. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

Federal COVID-19 protocols that were mandatory for last year’s cruise season are now optional, but cruise lines visiting Alaska are still expected to follow the voluntary guidelines for the coming season.

Ketchikan’s acting city manager, Lacey Simpson, says in a memo that all cruise lines scheduled to visit Ketchikan’s city-run downtown port have indicated they plan to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 protocols. Norwegian Cruise Line, which is scheduled to tie its ships up at a privately-run port north of town in Ward Cove, has also said publicly that it’s opting in to the program.

As part of the voluntary program, cruise lines are encouraged to sign agreements with the ports they plan to visit outlining their COVID-19 protocols. One agreement between Royal Caribbean and a wide range of Alaska ports is up for Ketchikan City Council approval Thursday.

Under the proposal, 95% of crew and all eligible passengers 12 and older are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Passengers would be required to present a negative COVID-19 test before boarding. Shoreside workers who interact with cruise passengers and crew are also “highly encouraged” to be vaccinated.

With the start of the cruise season fast approaching, Ketchikan city officials are asking the council for the authority to sign similar agreements with other cruise lines.

Cruise Lines International Association executive Brian Salerno told KHNS last week that the cruise industry expects some 600 voyages to bring roughly 1.5 million passengers to the state this summer.

Large foreign-flagged cruise ships, which bring most passengers to Alaska, are also required to stop in Canada by federal law. Canadian authorities require all passengers 12 and older to be vaccinated and present a negative test.

Ketchikan’s City Council meets at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Lew Williams III Council Chambers at Ketchikan’s Karl R. Amylon City Hall. The meeting is broadcast on local cable channels and the city’s website. Time is set aside for public comment at the beginning of the meeting.