New and exciting initiatives could mean cruising will resume in Australian waters by the end of the year. But Queensland health officials still need some convincing.
Boutique Australian line, Coral Expeditions – Australian flagged and crewed – is expected to start itineraries in Queensland from October.
Additionally, as revealed in Cruise Passenger two weeks ago, Cruise Lines International Association Australasia (CLIA) is in talks with the Queensland government for sunshine state only cruises.
Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young maintained on Thursday resuming cruising was still a low priority.
She told Seven News: “It’s something that would be quite late in our process before we’d think they were a good idea.”
Ponant’s chair for Asia Pacific Sarina Bratton has hinted that a cruise bubble may start in New Zealand, using two of the French line’s small expedition ships.
Jeff Gillies, the Commercial Director of Coral Expeditions, said the line is working with local governments like South Australia for other potential destination developments.
“We continue to work each week with governments and these trip plans are provisional and will rely on formal permissions regarding opening of borders before we can officially release details,” he said.
Coral Expeditions also hopes to be sailing in Tasmania by January 2021 with the Yachtman’s Cruise departing Sydney with the fleet from the Sydney to Hobart on 26 December and arriving in Hobart on 1 January.
The line will hopefully redeploy the Coral Adventurer and Coral Discoverer to Western Australia and South Australia.
CLIA told Cruise Passenger it had been in discussions with both the Port of Brisbane and the Queensland Tourism Industry Council to explore options that would see Queensland residents setting sail aboard cruise ships to destinations only within the sunshine state.
The itineraries might include Queensland gems like the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef as well as stops into Cairns, Townsville and Mackay.
Joel Katz, CLIA Managing Director of Australasia said: “Queensland is especially well positioned for domestic cruising, given low levels of COVID-19 and an extensive network of local ports and destinations. Under strict health measures, we see an excellent opportunity for Queensland cruising, initially for Queenslanders only.”
While it is currently too soon to say when international cruise will resume, Mr Katz can see the path ahead, starting domestically.
“This might mean short domestic cruise itineraries, for Australians only. This would help protect Australia while international borders remain closed. With health measures in place, cruises might operate on restricted intrastate or interstate itineraries. At the appropriate time, this could be extended to involve a trans-Tasman bubble or carefully managed operations in the South Pacific,” he said.
Next week would have seen the new $177 million Luggage Point terminal welcome its first ship, the Pacific Dawn on October 3. Pacific Dawn would have been one of 12 departures scheduled to leave in October. However, the terminal will continue to remain empty for quite some time.
CLIA says the logistics of preparing a ship to be passenger ready, from collecting provisions, food and beverages through to recruiting and rostering a crew, can take several months. This means concrete answers must be given about plans to resume a long time before December 17.
“There are long lead times and even if we were signing-off on a re-start today, it wouldn’t be until the end of the year, November or December, that those ships would be able to get back to Australia,” Mr Katz said.
Ms Bratton told New Zealand based drive-time news program Checkpoint that she hopes to create a travel bubble in New Zealand where two of Ponant’s luxurious expedition vessels would be able to sail using one or two quarantine options.
The ships will sail from December 2020 through till March 2021.
“One is either you can be at sea for 28 days, taking your time from a point – let’s say Singapore through to New Zealand with just the crew onboard,” she said.
“The other one is that you could come into an anchorage, say to Auckland, and be anchored for 14 days with no guests on board, just the crew, and undertake the quarantine there.”
Ms Bratton said on average, about 100 crew members are needed on each ship. One vessel will have the capacity for 150 guests and the other, 200 guests.
She also said they hope to use the 150-passenger vessel for 80-plus days of expedition cruises, in and around New Zealand’s coast. The ship will not pick passengers up, nor will it pick up passengers from other countries unless a travel bubble with other nations was established by then.
“We’ve got such proven operations there with the subantarctic but also regional New Zealand cruising. And when we had a look, over 100,000 Kiwis cruise annually, [but] not a lot of them get the opportunity to cruise their own coast or indeed to take an expedition and the reason being most of the time when we’re in New Zealand we’re chartered by North American companies, so we see this as a tremendous opportunity for us to create product, number one for Kiwis, and if we’re able to then for Aussies,” she said.
In response to any COVID cases which may present onboard, she said the line has strict plans and policies in place.
“We have a series of isolation cabins that are put aside for that purpose. The other thing is we’re new ships … so the whole air conditioning situation on board, we have 100 per cent fresh air coming through all the cabins, 100 per cent fresh air coming into the public spaces that is then renewed five times every hour.
“This has been very successful, we’ve operated over the last two-and-a-half months over 50 expeditions in various parts of the world with no incidents.”
Ponant Cruises has been in weekly discussions with Maritime NZ about its proposal, but those talks are now paused until after the election on October 17.
“There appears to be some fairly good progress there but linked to that obviously is the border opening. And if your border doesn’t open, we would then be trying to get approval to come under all of those health guidelines and operate just for New Zealanders in New Zealand,” said Ms Bratton.
Meanwhile, CLIA has mobilised cruise suppliers to help put pressure on governments to move more quickly to help the industry resume sailings.
Representatives of Australia’s farmers, food wholesalers, beverage providers and transport companies have joined other suppliers to support plans for a phased resumption of cruise operations in Australia.
The businesses are among thousands of Australian companies impacted by the suspension of Australia’s $5 billion-a-year cruise economy, which has put more than 18,000 jobs at risk across the country.
A new Cruise Suppliers Advisory Group included representatives of farmers, food wholesalers, beverage suppliers, technical support providers, transport companies and others from the industry’s supply chain.
CLIA Australasia Managing Director Joel Katz said the advisory group would meet regularly as part of efforts to ensure the industry’s voice is heard by governments at state, territory and national levels.
“Many of these suppliers have been devastated by the suspension of cruise operations in a similar way to members of the travel and tourism industry,” Mr Katz said.