Ponant kimberley and western australia
Ponant expedition luxury cruises

Exclusive: Home Affairs says all foreign-flagged cruise ships must employ Aussie staff

The government is insisting cruise ship operators wanting to sail Australian waters must employ Australians to take on hospitality and other non-specialised jobs, despite a shortage of such staff across the country.

The surprise ruling from Australian Border Force is believed to be behind the cancellation of  APT’s first Caledonian Sky cruise, which was scheduled to sail on June 2.

The small ship, with just 99 passengers and crew, would have been the first foreign flagged vessel to sail the tourist-starved Kimberley coast. Ponant has also been forced to cancel its June voyages.

APT said in a statement: “Following advice from the Australian government, we are employing more than 30 Australian crew members for our 2021 Kimberley season. However, due to a number of challenges, including a tourism and hospitality staff shortage at present, the recruitment process has been slower than anticipated. This has meant the training required for all crew to meet criteria set by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority has also been delayed.”

An investigation by Cruise Passenger shows the Australian Border Force ruling goes far wider than APT, and looks likely to cover all foreign flagged ships.

A Home Affairs spokesperson told Cruise Passenger the rules are spelt out on the department’s website under cruise ships and maritime, which states:

“Crew of large passenger vessels (up to 99 berths, inclusive) are not exempt from Australia’s travel restrictions and will need to submit a travel exemption request before travelling to Australia. This can be done through the Travel Exemption Portal.

“We will only consider exemptions for crew required to safely operate the vessel. Entry of the vessel should also provide economic benefit to Australia. Other roles, such as service or hospitality roles, should be filled by workers in Australia.”

Australia has the largest per capita number of cruise holiday fans in the world, and tens of thousands are keenly awaiting the chance to cruise again.

But so far, despite months of patient planning and talks, no agreement has been reached.

Australian-owned line Scenic was forced to cancel the arrival of the world’s first luxury discovery yacht, Scenic Eclipse, after months of painstaking negotiations eventually came to nothing. Luxury small ship line Ponant and Silversea are still waiting for the go ahead months after announcing cruises, which have sold well  – meaning hundreds of passengers now face losing their dream holidays.

The problem is the failure of federal and state governments to accept a single set of rules by which cruising can resume safely, even though cruise lines have put numerous health protocols, quarantine time lines and passenger number restrictions to health departments and government officials.

Cruise executives are becoming increasingly frustrated, with one telling Cruise Passenger: “Just when you get over one hurdle, they put up another – whether it is state, federal or health. It is never ending…”

News this week that Australia’s borders are unlikely to be opened before July, 2022, has added to the growing anger. Cruise ship operators believe safe cruising, as shown in Singapore and shortly in Europe and America, is not just possible but has now been proven.

Thousands of jobs and millions of dollars are being lost because Australia is unable to come to a single, united set of regulations – despite the increasing number of models overseas.

Ms Sarina Bratton, Chairman of Ponant Asia Pacific, said this week the travel industry is desperate for products to sell and expeditions to Australian destinations would provide a lifeline.
“International tourism is gone for the foreseeable future, domestic travel is mainly booked on-line,  and those travel agents who are left are using Government subsidies to try to remain open. This would be a significant first step to moving beyond what the worst of COVID has done to the Australian travel industry.
 
“There are many thousands of Aussies already booked, and many more ready to book now – that would make a huge difference to struggling businesses.”
Ms  Bratton added: “If the Federal Government can issue their framework early enough, we can still salvage the Kimberley season. We continue to be hopeful.”

According to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, APT’s Bahamas-flagged ship, Caledonian Sky has not yet arrived in Australia or been inspected by AMSA.

“When the ship arrives in Australia and subject to any relevant quarantine requirements, it is be inspected to ensure it is seaworthy and crewed appropriately,” an AMSA spokesperson said.

 

Caledonian Sky

The ABF’s ruling on local Australian crew is similar to what happened to  Ponant when New Zealand border officials refused entry to  Le Laperouse because 61 crew members were not from New Zealand. They were refused work visas for the line’s Auckland cruise itinerary in February this year.

Ponant was forced to cancel the cruises which affected 700 passengers.

Ponant has already cancelled three sold-out Kimberley cruises in June and early July because of uncertainty about the easing of restrictions on cruising but the line is optimistic that its rest of the season will go ahead.

“With the lack of Australian hospitality workers available throughout Australia, with restaurants not being able to open seven days a week and forced to operate with lower service standards, with international students now being allowed to work more hours in hospitality, clearly our country cannot provide the skilled and trained workforce required to man a full five-star hotel function onboard a ship. Our Kimberley operations will engage around 46 Australians for various functions onboard, primarily naturalists,” Ms Bratton added.

Silversea is also optimistic its Kimberley season will go ahead.

“Silversea is hopeful that the 2021 Kimberley cruise season will still happen, albeit with a shorter season than usual, as we await the delivery of the cruise resumption framework from the Federal Government.

“Silversea is committed to commencing our Kimberley voyages as we are eagerly looking forward to a return to cruising in Australia. All parties are working towards a shared goal, so we are hopeful that the remainder of the Kimberley season will resume as scheduled,” said Adam Radwanski, managing director, Silversea Asia Pacific.

The Scenic Eclipse inaugural voyage
Scenic Eclipse

Meanwhile Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has stepped up its fight for a resumption of cruising in Australia, issuing a call for travel industry supporters to join its Ready, Set, Sail campaign.

The initiative will target travel agents, industry stakeholders and other members of Australia’s extensive cruise community, urging them to raise their voice and place new pressure on state and federal parliamentarians. See  www.ReadySetSail.com.au