It’s had more seasons than Succession and more comebacks than John Farnham, but Sydney’s seemingly endless search for increased cruise ship capacity got another lease of life this week after the NSW State Government ruled out Yarra Bay.

With Labor in power, the move surprised no-one. But it did leave Cruise Lines International Association Australasia asking the obvious:  if not Yarra Bay, where?

“The announcement on Yarra Bay is certainly a disappointment given no alternative has been indicated, so CLIA is engaged with the new Government in NSW and we’re looking forward to more discussions on the industry’s future operations in Sydney.

“As the Government has indicated, the Port Authority of NSW is examining alternative ways to increase terminal capacity for cruise ships and will report back, so we welcome this process and will help provide industry input wherever possible.”

The answer, of course, is starring everyone in the face. The Navy base at Garden Island, which has housed cruise ships before when Circular Quay has been full, could be shared.

However the Defence Force quickly quashed that notion with a spokesperson telling Cruise Passenger: “The Garden Island Defence Precinct is a strategic Defence establishment that directly supports fleet operations of the Royal Australian Navy and Australia’s broader maritime capability by providing essential maintenance and repair facilities.

“The shared use of the Garden Island Defence Precinct by cruise ships is incompatible with Defence’s operational requirements.”

No surprises there, either. The Admirals, with a fine view of the harbour and wharves for its fleet of warships, are reluctant to give up such a luxurious and convenient (for the watering holes of Kings Cross) location.

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who blocked requests to share the facility even though it had been used in 2017 for Queen Mary II, added this rather rude comment to the debate this week:



The truth is the cruise industry only backed Yarra Bay in Port Botany because it was a solution to a problem that may cost NSW billions of dollars in tourist spend. Major cruise lines like Norwegian and Royal Caribbean are deploying ships elsewhere because they cannot get a berth at the Overseas Passenger Terminal.

NSW Ports has tried hard to find a solution.  But ideas like docking two ships in a day, bringing one in the early hours and a second around lunchtime have not been viable for the industry.

Port Authority of NSW told Cruise Passenger it will continue to explore alternative ways to increase cruise terminal capacity.

“This will include working with industry and regional centres to make sure the right locations are considered. Once this assessment is completed, Port Authority will report back to NSW Government on viable options.”

The Port Authority added it is confident that there are viable options for suitable infrastructure to support the increasing number of calls and the growing demand for cruise tourism, to ensure that NSW retains its share of Australia’s $5 billion cruise industry.

And the organisation remains confident it can cope with increased demand, denying it has turned down ship visits.

“We are expecting increased visitation from new entries to the Australian market, such as Virgin Voyages and Disney, in the 2024/25 cruise season,” said a statement.

Cruise Passenger recently sailed out of Rome – Civitavecchia Port is an hour outside the city.  But it works and is accepted by cruise lines and passengers alike as the gateway to Rome.

So if a new federal Labor government can’t take on the admirals, perhaps it is time for some more radical thinking.

While Randwick Council fought against the Yarra Bay proposal and the Defence Force remains implacably against the use of Garden Island, Wollongong is raring to go as the new gateway for Sydney cruise.

Mark Sleigh, General Manager of Destination, says Port Kembla is the only location ticking all the necessary boxes for Sydney’s new port.

The MSC Magnifica to call at Wollongong on world cruise

“Located 73km from the Sydney CBD, 60km from Sydney Airport and 50km from the Badgerys Creek Airport, we have the location to service the cruise industry. We have excellent road and rail connectivity already which will improve over the coming years and we have a deep water port with available space for major expansion plans.

“There is no other location that ticks those boxes.”

Mr Sleigh also says he firmly believes the Wollongong community is completely behind the idea.

“Most importantly, we have a community that is incredibly proud of our city and loves to see Wollongong front and centre on the world stage.

“When Radiance of the Seas marked the maiden voyage of a cruise ship into Port Kembla, thousands of residents lined the foreshore for a glimpse of history. Hundreds of residents signed up for our Ambassador Program to help welcome our visitors to the City.

“We’ve had the same response for every Ship which has visited Port Kembla.

There will be no residents’ complaints, no action groups. The only thing we will see or hear from the local community is how can we get involved to make the most of this incredibly opportunity.”

Mr Sleigh says the port could be in full operation within three to four years.

“I’ve been advised that given the planning conditions in place around Port Kembla, three to four years is a realistic time frame to welcome the first ship into new infrastructure from when the commitment is made.

“Whilst these projects always take time, a project anywhere in Sydney Harbour would likely take far longer given the amount of competing interests including the NAVY, potential for residential obstruction and lack of planning regime for a significant project in a very busy and well-loved space.”

On whether the distance between Wollongong to Sydney could be a barrier, Mr Sleigh says the evidence from around the world shows the hour or so commute will not be a barrier.

“The cruise market is used to travelling and on an international scale, 60 minutes isn’t considered a long commute.

“Several of the largest cruise turnaround ports in the world are located over an hour’s drive from their respective capital cities. The port of Le Havre, the cruise ship berth which services Paris is located 196km away, the port of Civitavecchia is home to cruise ships in Rome located 60km away.

“Road and rail access are both available now without significant issues, and there are plans in place for these to continue to improve, the cruise opportunity only makes this continued investment more important.

“With careful consideration to the design and location, options cold also be available to park and sail, very close to the cruise facility, something which would be very attraction to the domestic market and never would be available in Sydney Harbour.”

But one business group is determined to ensure cruise passengers stay in the city.
Business Sydney’s Chief  Executive Paul Nicolaou told Cruise Passenger: “Business Sydney supports the NSW Government’s decision to rule out Yarra Bay as a site for Sydney’s third cruise terminal. The idea was never likely to be embraced by the community.
“Cruising is a vital contributor to the city’s tourism economy and the solution to provide for its future growth has come back full circle to the shared use of Garden Island with the Navy. We know from the cruise industry that a berth is needed east of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Garden Island remains the obvious way forward.
“And we also know that international cruise visitors come to Australia for the Sydney Harbour experience not to pull into what is essentially an industrial port.”