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Luxury expedition line Ponant has ceased sailing in northern Europe until next year, even though it has sailed over 60 itineraries.

The move follows last week’s abandonment of the first SeaDream cruise in the Caribbean since the global Pandemic, which sadly ended when seven guests and crew were confirmed to have COVID-19. SeaDream has also cancelled the remainder of its sailings in 2020.

Ponant also suffered an outbreak in early November. The Le Jacques Cartier was forced to sail back to Marseilles, France where 17 cases of COVID-19 were detected. Before that, the line had sailed with over 3,500 passengers with no incident.

The news is a set back for those who believed small ships with strong health protocols and careful restrictions could be a way forward while major operators with larger vessels navigate the protocols required by national and international health authorities.

Australia has a cruise ban on international vessels which is scheduled to end on December 17. Asked if this was likely to be renewed, Cruise Passenger was referred to the health.gov.au website which has not changed.

Le Bougainville

Le Bougainville

Ponant has “paused” operations in the northern hemisphere until December 31, 2020.

“The safety and security of passengers, crew members and the locals of the regions visited remains Ponant’s priority”, the cruise line said in an announcement published in Europe and America.

Passengers booked on cancelled voyages will receive a credit of 120 per cent of the amount paid, which can also be applied to a future sailing.

Ponant has been sailing since July with over 60 sailings from France, Iceland, Croatia and Norway on four ships. All guests and crew members must have a signed doctor’s medical form, complete a health questionnaire and undergo a health check and screening by the ship’s medical staff. Restaurant layouts have been changed and offer only contactless dining options and occupancy of amenities like theatres are capped at 50 per cent.

Recently, the Australian Government’s Tourism Restart Committee, which has Ponant’s Asia Pacific Chair Sarina Bratton as a member, predicted small ship adventure sailings in Australia and New Zealand could begin as early as November or December.

Ms Bratton had reportedly been trying to start local New Zealand sailings.

APT Travel Group, which operates small ship Caledonian Sky, is selling departures in April and May on the Barrier Reef and Cape York with the 114-crew vessel.

Cruise Lines International Association MD Joel Katz told Cruise Passenger: “In Australia, CLIA envisages a phased and regional approach to the resumption of cruising, backed by extensive health measures.

“This might involve local cruises for local residents only, operating within state or national borders while travel restrictions continue.

“Expedition cruising has strong potential to operate within this concept and is one of the areas CLIA is discussing with governments, however all ocean-going cruise lines have committed to implementing extensive new health protocols in light of COVID-19 and our aim is to open a pathway to resumption for all types of cruising, in a controlled and carefully managed way.”

This week has seen more reports that at least two vaccines with efficacy of more than 90 per cent are likely to be available next year providing they pass rigorous testing. The next hurdle may be persuading the travelling public they must be vaccinated before they can cruise. A recent poll showed 58 per cent of Americans will take it, but the rest were either opposed or unsure.

Mr Katz said: “This is one of the areas cruise lines will take guidance on from health authorities and medical experts globally. “At this stage it’s too soon to say specifically what role vaccines will play in the wider health measures cruise lines will implement, but the cruise industry will work closely with health authorities and governments to determine the most appropriate response when vaccinations are available.

“In the meantime, the cruise industry is continuing to work on the establishment of extensive health measures designed to uphold safety and allow a carefully controlled resumption of cruises. This work is not dependent on vaccine development, but the industry will continue to adapt to all significant medical advances and insight.”