Bar Harbor has decided to cancel all cruise ship visits for 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The town council voted for the cancellation Tuesday night after hearing a proposal by American Cruise Lines, which operates small cruise ships on the New England and Mississippi coasts, to make calls in port this year.

But the decision had already been largely made for the tourist town on Mount Desert Island after nearly all  cruise lines canceled their sailings for the year. Bar Harbor had been scheduled for dozens of visits this year, starting in late April with nearly daily dockings through early November.

A small cruise ship at the dock in Bar Harbor  Mount Desert Islander file photo

The cruise ship industry accounts for $20 million in economic activity in Bar Harbor, said Stephen Coston, the only one of seven councilors to oppose the ban. He said it provides an important economic boost, particularly after Columbus Day, when most other tourism in the town drops off sharply.

Some business stay open through October only because of the cruise ship stops, he said.

Coston said American Cruise Lines had presented a detailed 27-page plan for its visits, including testing of passengers as they boarded, while on the cruise and as they disembarked in Bar Harbor. The cruise line also planned to operate at about a third of its capacity, with only 50 to 60 passengers on board.

Coston also said that the plan would have needed approval from both Gov. Janet Mills and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which should have provided assurance that the visits were safe.

But Councilor Gary Friedmann said councilors heard from many residents who opposed allowing any cruise ship visits this year.

Cruise ships were an early focus of the coronavirus pandemic, with scores of passengers and crew members contracting COVID-19 aboard ships this spring before most lines canceled their sailing schedules and tied up their ships.

“There’s a sense that they’re Petri dishes for COVID,” Friedmann said. “Our citizens are on edge.”

Friedmann praised ACL’s plan, saying the line was “trying in good faith” to continue to operate cruises this year while also protecting people in the ports where the ships stop. He said ACL has called on Bar Harbor regularly for 20 years and is a welcome visitor with only a few hundred passengers instead of the thousands aboard larger ships.

But, he said, residents’ concerns outweighed that plan.

Friedmann said the council will revisit the cruise ship issue early next year after assessing the status of the pandemic.

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