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Proposed rule may force cruise lines out of Hawaii

Have you ever wondered why most Hawaii cruises have to go out of their way to call in Mexico, Canada, or the Fanning Islands? It's because U.S. cabotage laws (cabotage means trade or navigation in coastal waters) prevent foreign-flagged ships from sailing exclusively among U.S. ports. Therefore, most cruise ships must stop at a non-U.S. port to comply with regulations. The exception is Norwegian's NCL America, whose U.S.-flagged ships can sail among the Hawaiian Islands without calling in a foreign country.

According to an article in Travel Weekly (registration required), Customs and Border Protection is considering a change to the current regulations, which will help NCL America and hurt the other cruise lines. The proposed rule will require foreign-flagged ships to spend at least 48 hours in a foreign port when sailing U.S. routes and that the port time in those foreign destinations be at least 50 percent of the total port time of the itinerary.

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If this rule passes, most cruise lines will have to give up their Hawaii itineraries or offer extra-long sailings that spend half the cruise in Hawaii and the other half in foreign countries. NCL America's three U.S.-flagged ships would corner the market on Hawaii cruising with their all-Hawaii itineraries.

Do you agree that foreign-flagged ships should not be allowed such free passage among U.S. ports? Or do you think the current arrangement promotes better competition and more interesting vacation choices? You can give the government your opinion through December 21. For instructions on how to do so or more information about the proposed ruling, visit this government website.

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