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HQ 112721

August 8, 1993

VES-3-CO:R:IT:C 112721 LLB


Mr. Robert G. Shaw
Healy and Baillie
29 Broadway
New York, New York 10006-3293

RE: Coastwise trade; Passengers; Foreign-flag cruise vessel; Return to port of embarkation; 46 U.S.C. App. 289

Dear Mr. Shaw:

Reference is made to your letter of May 5, 1993, in which you ask that we confirm that passengers may be embarked on a foreign-flag vessel at a coastwise point, transported to nearby foreign ports, and returned to the original coastwise port of embarkation to be disembarked without violating the coastwise passenger transportation statute.


It is proposed that passengers board a Liberian-flag cruise vessel at the port of Ketchikan, Alaska. The vessel would then proceed to ports of call in Canada and return to Ketchikan to disembark all passengers and terminate the voyage.


Whether a non-coastwise-qualified vessel may legally embark passengers at a coastwise point, proceed to nearby foreign ports, and return to the original coastwise boarding port to permanently discharge passengers.


The Act of June 19, 1886, as amended (24 Stat. 81; 46 U.S.C. App. ? 289, sometimes called the coastwise passenger law), provides that:

No foreign vessel shall transport passengers between ports or places in the United States either directly or by way of a foreign port, under a penalty of $200 for each passenger so transported and landed.

For your general information, we have consistently interpreted this prohibition to apply to all vessels except United States-built, owned, and properly documented vessels (see 46 U.S.C. ?? 12106, 12110, 46 U.S.C. App. ? 883, and 19 C.F.R. ? 4.80).

In interpreting the coastwise laws as applied to the transportation of passengers, the Customs Service has ruled that the carriage of passengers entirely within territorial waters, even though the passengers disembark at their point of embarkation and the vessel touches no other point, is considered coastwise trade subject to the coastwise laws. However, the transportation of passengers to the high seas or foreign waters and back to the point of embarkation, assuming the passengers do not go ashore, even temporarily, at another United States point, often called a "voyage to nowhere," is not considered coastwise trade. The territorial waters of the United States consist of the territorial sea, defined as the belt, three nautical miles wide, adjacent to the coast of the United States and seaward of the territorial sea baseline.

The first of these positions, regarding transportation of passengers entirely within territorial waters on a voyage in which they embark and disembark at the same coastwise point is based on a 1900 decision (Treasury Decision 22275).

The second of these positions, regarding transportation of passengers from a point in the United States to the high seas or foreign waters and back to the same point, is based on a 1912 opinion of the Attorney General of the United States (29 Opinions of the Attorney General 318).


A non-coastwise-qualified vessel may transport passengers from a coastwise point to foreign ports or territorial waters and back again to the original coastwise point without violating the proscriptions imposed by 46 U.S.C. App. 289. This ruling is premised upon the understanding that the vessel will not stop, even temporarily, at any other coastwise point, including any point within the three-mile territorial waters of the United States.


Acting Chief
Carrier Rulings Branch

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