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NCL's Pride of Aloha Becomes First U.S.-Flagged Cruise Ship in Decades

Officials participated in a ceremony that happens every day on land but hasn't happened on a large, modern cruise ship in ages: They raised the American flag.

June 8, 2004 -- On June 7, Norwegian Cruise Line executives and officials of the U.S. Coast Guard and Maritime Administration participated in a ceremony that happens every day on land but hasn't happened on a large, modern cruise ship in ages: They raised the American flag. With that one act, the face of cruising in U.S. waters has become something different than it was just a week ago.

A short history lesson: The Passenger Vessel Services Act, which became U.S. law in 1886, forbids passenger ships from operating itineraries entirely within U.S. waters (for instance, sailing from New York to Miami with stops in Baltimore and Charleston) unless they're owned, built, and flagged in the United States, and manned by a U.S. crew. The law was originally designed to protect U.S. shipping interests from foreign competition, but in modern times -- with U.S. cruise lines commonly building, flagging, and manning their vessels overseas -- its effect has been that vessels sailing the coastal U.S. have had to visit a foreign port as part of their itineraries, even if that port isn't terribly interesting. Why do you think so many ships sail to Nassau?

Enter NCL (tel. 800/327-7030, www.ncl.com), which worked with the U.S. Congress on a deal which will allow it to operate U.S.-flagged ships in the Hawaii market. Till now, ships sailing from Hawaii have had to take a long, time-consuming detour to a foreign port such as the Kiribati Islands.

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As part of the deal, NCL took ownership of two partially completed hulls ordered from U.S. shipyards by now-defunct American Classic Voyages. Intended to be the first U.S.-built passenger ships in many years, they're now a hybrid, with construction started in the States and completed in Europe. Under NCL ownership, they'll carry an all-U.S. crew and be subject to all U.S. taxes and environmental regulations.

The first of the new "NCL America" ships, Pride of America, is nearing completion after a shipyard accident delayed its launch by several months. Taking her place on scheduled 7-night inter-island Hawaii cruises is the 77,000-ton, 2,000-passenger Pride of Aloha, which until a few weeks ago sailed as the line's Norwegian Sky. Launched in 2000, the ship was recipient of a congressional dispensation that allowed her to be reflagged for Hawaii service, even though she was built overseas.

Formerly Bahamian-flagged, the vessel has undergone a multi-million dollar refurbishment in San Francisco and now sports a distinctly Hawaiian d├ęcor, an onboard Hawaiian cultural center, and an 800-person crew drawn primarily from the islands.

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"Today marks a milestone not only in the cruise industry, but also in our nation's maritime history," said NCL president and CEO Colin Veitch. Those sentiment were echoed by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, who noted that "Reflagging this ship is far more than symbolic. Raising the Stars and Stripes over more ships raises our maritime strength and raises jobs."

A PriceWaterhouseCoopers study that figured into Congress's consideration of the NCL deal estimated that the ships will create 10,200 jobs in Hawaii and generate $270.6 million in annual wages and salaries for the islands' residents.

Pride of Aloha will complete a series of Pacific Coastal cruises before setting sail for her new homeport of Honolulu. Following an inaugural celebration and a christening on July 4th, she'll begin her regular 7-night year-round Hawaii cruise schedule, visiting all four main islands and offering passengers up to 96 hours in port.

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