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P&O announces mandatory vaccinations for local sailings – but many lines continue to dither

P&O Cruises Australia has revealed  that it will require all passengers to be vaccinated before cruising with the line.

President of P&O Cruises Sture Myrmell, addressing a Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) forum today  said: “We want to make cruising as safe as it can be. And there is a clear community sentiment that vaccinations should be a requirement. It’s happening overseas. And when cruising resumes here in Australia, P&O Cruises has listened to the community and will make vaccinations a requirement of sailing.”

Mr Myrmell also told the forum that children who were eligible to be vaccinated, which currently stands at kids aged 12 and above, will be allowed to cruise. He also said the line would be following the government’s recommendation for children under the age of 12.

But he could not say what other cruise lines in the Carnival fleet, including Princess and Carnival Cruise Lines, would do. “Each line will make their own decision, but we believe that the other brands will follow suit to P&O Cruises,” he said.

His announcement underscores that cruise lines are not united over vaccinations, despite huge public demand that crews and passengers be vaccinated.

Overseas, Norwegian Cruise Line was one of the first to make vaccinations mandatory in America, taking the issue to court. When Florida introduced new local laws preventing cruise lines from mandating passengers disclose their vaccination status, most cruise lines tried to find a compromise. But NCL took the state to court.

The line won the right to require proof of vaccination, with a judge ruling a temporary halt to the law. Frank Del Rio, the line’s flamboyant head, was forthright. 

He told Yahoo Business: “It’s beyond bizarre. It’s shameful. Here is a state that relies on tourism as its number one industry. And the number one priority of any hospitality business is to keep their customers safe. I mean, that’s de rigueur. And you would expect that government, again, would do everything possible to support that. Instead, we had to go to court.”

While luxury and small ship lines joined NCL, other big ship lines refused to be drawn into the fight, producing policies that fudged the issue. Some because they didn’t want to put off passengers with kids. Others because they didn’t want to put off anyone.

In Australia, where cruise lines are battling to persuade the federal government to examine new health protocols so cruise can produce a “pathway” to restart,  the stance of many is equally opaque.

Norwegian, Regent, Oceania – all part of Norwegian – Viking, Ponant, Hurtigruten and other players have made up their mind. “In order to provide the safest cruise experience possible, all guests and crew will need to be fully vaccinated for all sailings embarking through December 31, 2021,” a Norwegian spokesperson told us.

P&O Cruises Australia now becomes the first in the region to reveal their vaccination policy.

Cruise Passenger, with the largest cruise audience in the region, regularly takes the temperature of what passengers think about a return to cruising. Their answers to the question about whether or not passengers and crew should be vaccinated has remained unequivocal. Over 93 per cent believe it should be mandatory.

Cruise Lines International Association Australasia is also playing coy.

“As vaccination rollouts are progressing in different ways internationally, CLIA’s Global Member Policy in response to Covid-19 provides for cruise lines to establish vaccination requirements in line with expert medical guidance and the requirements of health authorities in individual jurisdictions. Vaccines are an important step forward in the global response to Covid-19, and form one element of the multi-layered prevention and mitigation strategies that the industry has implemented as cruise operations resume internationally.

“In Australia, CLIA has called on the Federal Government to include a framework for cruise resumption in the national four-stage plan for reopening and is looking forward to progressing discussions, including on the role that vaccinations will play, at the earliest opportunity.”

Majestic Princess captain receives COVID-19 vaccine

Here’s what we could glean from the lines on their position:

Norwegian Cruise Line

“In order to provide the safest cruise experience possible, all guests and crew will need to be fully vaccinated for all sailings embarking through December 31, 2021. We will continue to constantly evaluate our health and safety protocols with our expert Global Health and Wellness Council and will follow the latest science to determine requirements for all future sailings embarking beginning January 1, 2022. We commit to keeping guests apprised of any policy changes as far in advance as possible of their scheduled holiday.”

Carnival group (on behalf of P&O, Princess, Cunard and Holland America Line)

P&O Cruises Australia President, Sture Myrmell confirmed that the line will require passengers to be vaccinated.

“We want to make cruising as safe as it can be. And there is a clear community sentiment that vaccinations should be a requirement. It’s happening overseas. And when cruising resumes here in Australia, P&O Cruises has listened to the community and will make vaccinations a requirement of sailing. We want people and the community to feel confident cruising,” he said.

Mr Myrmell also said he believes, that while the other lines in the Carnival Corporation will make their own decisions, he believes that they will follow P&O Cruises Australia’s vaccination requirements.

Princess said in a statement to Cruise Passenger:  “Our research tells us 90% of our guests are already vaccinated or plan to be. We plan to finalise and publish all our operational protocols once the government framework for a local restart is announced.”

Royal Caribbean 

Gavin Smith, vice president and managing director, Australia and New Zealand, Royal Caribbean International said:  “Our vaccine policies differ around the world depending on country specific requirements. Largely, guests are required to be fully vaccinated, or those who are younger need to provide a negative test result. While our policies in Australia will follow the lead of those globally, we’ll continue to work with federal and state governments to establish requirements specific to this market. We’ll provide more details on our vaccine policy for Australia in due course.”

Celebrity Cruise Line

“Celebrity Cruises has been working closely with health and government authorities, in each country we sail from, to outline a clear path for cruising with new health and safety measures. Where local government regulations differ, we will comply with local requirements.”

Silversea

“While I would love to be able to provide quick, concise responses for you, we are not yet in a position where we can respond with clarity and certainty with regard to Australia, in particular. In saying that, considering we are still awaiting a framework for the resumption of sailing in Australia, the applicable policy surrounding mandatory vaccines has not yet been confirmed. For now, Silversea will continue to work closely with Australia’s governing bodies and health authorities to evolve its health and safety procedures ahead of a return to service in Australia.”

Regent Seven Seas

“Currently, all guests sailing are required to be fully vaccinated, at least two weeks prior to departure, in order to board. Vaccines, combined with multi-layered and preventative health and safety measures, including universal COVID-19 testing prior to embarkation, will help us provide a uniquely safe and healthy vacation environment that we believe exceeds all other holiday choices on land and at sea.

 “We have developed a robust set of health and safety protocols, guided by expert advice from the Healthy Sail Panel and our Company’s SailSAFE Global Health and Wellness Council. We will continuously refine and adjust these protocols as science, technology, and our knowledge of the virus improve and we will provide guests with all relevant information and any changes to protocols prior to setting sail.”

Viking

Viking requires all passengers to be fully vaccinated regardless of their age, for both their ocean and river cruising vessels.

Seabourn 

Seabourn is currently requiring passengers of any age to be vaccinated on all voyages through to January 15, 2022. 

Cunard

Cunard currently requires full vaccination regardless of age, however, from October 13, 2021, passengers 17 years and under can get on board if they complete a negative PCR test prior to travel. 

Ponant

Ponant is requiring all guests 16 years and older to be vaccinated. However, this disclaimer is on their website for Australia and New Zealand: “​​For Australian and New Zealand travellers booked on an Australian or New Zealand voyage, our vaccination requirements are applied in accordance with the vaccination schedule for these countries. In the meantime, for these countries only, and in accordance with local authorities, PONANT’s health protocol requires a negative PCR test at the latest 72 hours before boarding. Celebrity