Tourism Restart Taskforce member John Hart maintains it is “totally unlikely that big international cruise ships with thousands of passengers” will be allowed to sail in Australian waters soon.
But the Taskforce is hopeful small ship lines like Ponant, which carry some 260 passengers each, might be able to operate in the much-talked-about “bubble” of Australia only – or Australia and New Zealand.
Current biosecurity laws, imposed by the Federal Government, ban international cruise ships with capacity of more than 100 passengers from Australia until September 17.
Ponant, whose Asia Pacific chair Sarina Bratton is also on the Taskforce, is hoping to restart operations in the Kimberley later this year. The line has two ships, Le Soleal in Tahiti and Le Laperouse in New Caledonia which have been on standby for the past four months, waiting to cruise the Kimberley once borders reopen.
Mr Hart who is also executive chair tourism of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said: “This has always been a complicated issue. Biosecurity laws have to change if we are to allow expedition cruises over 100 passengers to operate in Australia.
“The second issue is whether Australia will allow international cruise lines to enter our waters. Then there is a third issue over the opening of state borders – what is happening in Victoria (with its surge in the number of COVID-19 cases) does not help.
“Biosecurity laws ban international cruise ships with a capacity of more than 100 passengers. Even if the ship cuts back on the number of passengers to under 100, the laws will not allow the ship to enter local waters because its capacity is over 100.
“It is totally unlikely that big international cruise ships with thousands of passengers will be allowed to sail in Australia soon.”
Mr Hart added that the biosecurity laws are reviewed every three months, but he can’t see changes lifting the ban on big international ships in September.
The Tourism Restart Taskforce has submitted a report to the Federal Government and has been engaged with state governments, but Ms Bratton said in a recent Cruiseco podcast: “There’s just such an extreme caution and a low risk appetite within all levels of government, so it’s quite tough.”
However, it was reported that expedition cruise was having “good engagement” with government.
Federal Minister for Tourism Simon Birmingham has asked for submissions from the expedition operators so changes to the 100 passenger limit can be considered.