Skip to main content

Maritime Law Exemption: Exemption Provides Limited Competitive Advantage, but Barriers to Further Entry under U.S. Flag Remain

GAO-04-421 Published: Feb 27, 2004. Publicly Released: Feb 27, 2004.
Jump To:
Skip to Highlights


No large U.S.-flagged cruise ships (ships registered in the U.S. that are U.S.-built, U.S.-owned, and U.S. crewed) are in operation. Foreignflagged vessels cruising to foreign ports serve most of the U.S. demand for cruises. However, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) recently obtained an exemption from U.S. maritime law to operate three foreign-built ships under the U.S. flag in Hawaii. Cruise lines and others have raised concerns over the advantage the exemption might confer to NCL, since foreign-flagged competitors are unable to offer the same itineraries due to the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA), which prevents foreign vessels from transporting passengers solely between U.S. ports. Concerns have also been raised over the effect this exemption might have on future attempts to grow the U.S.-flag cruise vessel fleet, since potential U.S.-flag competitors would need to build ships in the United States, presumably at higher cost. GAO was asked to (1) review the original intent of the PVSA and rulings and decisions regarding it, (2) determine if the exemption will affect the implementation of the PVSA or other maritime laws, (3) assess the potential effects of the exemption on competition and entry into the U.S. domestic cruise market, and (4) assess the potential economic effects of granting other cruise lines similar exemptions. The Departments of Homeland Security and Transportation generally agreed with the findings in this report.

Full Report

Office of Public Affairs


CompetitionInternational relationsMarine transportationMaritime lawMonopoliesWatercraftShipsAdministrative lawShipyardsCompetitive advantage