Cairns-based Coral Expeditions this week became the first to set sail since the coronavirus cruise ban seven months ago.

The Australian flagged, Australian crewed Coral Discoverer, with 46 excited passengers and 20 crew,  sailed out from Cairns on Wednesday on the first of a new series of seven-night voyages to visit remote islands and reefs of the northern Great Barrier Reef.

Most on board, both crew and guests, are residents of Queensland – heralding the new model for cruise:  local sailings with local passengers.

Joel Katz, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Managing Director Australasia, said Coral Expeditions’ return to service was a welcome milestone for Australian tourism.

Coral Discoverer’s first departure shows how a carefully controlled operation with strict health protocols in place can help revive tourism in Queensland and Australia,” he said.

The departure comes after months of preparation and initiative by the Coral Expeditions team, who have worked in partnership with medical expert Dr Ian Norton from Respond Global, to develop a world-class SailSAFE Plan.

“Coral Expeditions has worked hard to lay a new foundation for its operations, drawing on expert medical insight to create new health and safety measures in response to Covid-19,” Mr Katz said.

Mark Fifield in front of Coral DiscovererThe plan is based on rigorous safety principles effectively creating a ‘safe travel bubble’ for guests and crew through pre-boarding screening, onboard mitigation process and authorised response control.

Mark Fifield, Group General Manager at Coral Expeditions said: “This is a major milestone in our company history and a significant step forward for our guests and crew…We hope that our successful return to operations gives confidence to travellers and authorities that small-ship expedition cruising with a local Australian operator is a logical and prudent point of a restart for the marine expedition industry.

The company’s Australian flag status, small guest count, and all-Australian guest and crew have been critical elements in the restart.

Coral Expeditions said: ‘As Coral Discoverer dropped her lines and pulled away from the wharf, crew and guests alike could not hold back broad smiles at the feeling of returning to sea. She passed close by the crew onboard the docked Coral Adventurer where a particularly emotional and hope-filled cheer was shared by our seafarers.’

FirstThe highly experiential and nature-based Outerknown Adventures of the Great Barrier Reef expeditions will take small groups of guests to explore the pristine outer reefs and lesser-known islands of the Great Barrier Reef, showcasing the extraordinary marine life and the rich natural and cultural history of Far North Queensland.  Itinerary highlights include access to remote locations and a connection with Reef conservation efforts.