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News / Business / Clark County Business

Cruise ships returning to Port of Camas-Washougal, months after cruise line went bankrupt

Camas-Washougal signs one-year agreement with American Cruise Lines to be ‘turn point’

By Doug Flanagan, Camas-Washougal Post-Record
Published: April 13, 2024, 6:09am
2 Photos
The American Harmony is one of five American Cruise Lines ships that sail the Columbia River.
The American Harmony is one of five American Cruise Lines ships that sail the Columbia River. (Contributed photo courtesy of American Cruise Lines) Photo Gallery

CAMAS — Two months after unexpectedly losing its docking agreement with American Queen Voyages, the Port of Camas-Washougal has partnered with another company to bring back cruise ships.

The port has signed a one-year contract with American Cruise Lines, a Connecticut-based company that operates 19 small cruise ships along the United States’ Eastern and Western seaboards, as well as several major U.S. rivers, including the Columbia River.

American Cruise Lines contacted the port after American Queen Voyages’ bankruptcy, Port CEO David Ripp said. ACL wanted a long-term contract, “but we felt more comfortable doing a one-year agreement as a start to see how this would work.”

ACL will move from Hayden Island and use the port as a “turn point,” according to Ripp. “A turn point is where a vessel begins or ends its cruise.”

ACL offers six- to nine-day cruise packages on the Columbia River, with stops between Astoria, Ore., and Clarkston.

Five vessels, ranging in size from 220 to 328 feet with the capacity for 125 to 200 passengers, will make 89 stops at the port’s breakwater dock between March 31 and Nov. 8, according to the agreement.

Passengers won’t disembark

In February, American Queen Voyages announced it was suspending operations and canceling all reservations. Under the terms of a five-year agreement with the port, the American Empress docked at Parker’s Landing Marina during its Columbia River cruises in 2022 and 2023.

When signing the original agreement in 2022, port leaders said that they hoped to bring the American Empress, a 360-foot paddle-wheeler, to the region in an effort to increase tourism.

Stops at the port included a “hop-on, hop-off” bus bound for Washougal’s Two Rivers Heritage Museum, Pendleton Woolen Mills and Cottonwood Beach before heading to downtown Camas’ shopping district.

Though the American Empress may return to the Columbia River — ACL has purchased four ships formerly operated by American Queen Voyages, including the American Empress — the new cruise ship agreement between ACL and the port won’t have the impact on tourism.

“With the ACL agreement, passengers won’t disembark and tour our community, so it doesn’t have that potential for local economic development,” Port Commissioner Cassi Marshall said during the commission’s April 3 meeting. “I like the one-year trial … because I just want to make sure we pay attention to the potential impacts to our own tenants. I mean, it’s big, and will be here a lot. So I would like to kind of know about the feedback from our own tenants.”

ACL will pay the port $2.50 per foot, or approximately $65,000, as well as a $10,000 deposit.

Commissioner John Spencer praised the agreement’s financial terms — “a 4.6-fold increase in revenue is a good thing” — and ACL’s commitment to sustainability.

Three of the five boats meet Environmental Protection Agency Tier 4 final emissions standards, Ripp said. The vessels will not idle at the dock but will run on generators overnight.

“I do feel a lot better about these boats being Tier 4, theoretically the cleanest that we can get right now without going electric,” Spencer said. “I have some concerns about that much activity long-term. … But it’s only one year, so we’ll see how it goes.”