A U.S. Senate bill allowing cruise lines to circumvent a Canadian cruising ban passed unanimously Thursday, paving the way for the first large cruise ships in more than a year to sail between Seattle and Alaska as early as this summer.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), pauses enforcement of a provision penalizing most foreign-flagged ships for transporting passengers directly between two U.S. ports.

Because nearly every ship owned by the seven cruise lines sailing between Seattle and Alaska is foreign-flagged — meaning it’s registered outside the United States — most cruise lines en route to Alaska make a stopover in Canada.

But after a string of high-profile coronavirus outbreaks onboard cruise vessels, Canada last spring banned ships carrying more than 100 passengers from entering its harbors, then extended the ban until early 2022.

For much of 2020, Canada’s measure was a footnote to other coronavirus-related restrictions on Alaska cruising, including a cruising ban instituted that March by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many cruise lines canceled or postponed sailings well into this year.

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