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Coral Princess: how cruise passengers ended a media beat up

It was the day – finally – when the real people who matter got their say.  As Coral Princess sailed into Sydney Harbour with 118 COVID cases on board, the Breakfast TV hosts were already fulminating.

Chief among them was Channel Nine’s Karl Stefanovic: “It’s Ruby Princess 2.0″ …”How could this be allowed to happen”…he fumed as the ship docked at the Overseas Passenger Terminal. His source of expert commentary:  Senator Jacqui Lambie.

On the water, Stan’s reporter on a hired motor cruiser claimed the vessel had “speeded down the harbour” to discharge its passengers.

It had done nothing of the sort. It had paused at Ford Dennison before proceeding at a sedate pace – the harbour has speed restrictions – to the Overseas Passenger Terminal.

On the dockside reporters circled ready to sink their teeth into a scoop that would be the crown jewel after a week of covering the supposed ‘cruise from hell’.

Then a shock. The passengers coming off the ship should have been full of anger and resentment. Instead, they calmly explained that COVID cases were a fact of life.  They had RAT tested and had an honesty system – if you failed, you didn’t get off.

They were happy to be cruising. And they were looking forward to a day of sightseeing in Sydney.

Suddenly, the reporters were being called back to the office.  Nothing to see here. Story over. The voice of reason had prevailed. Cruise fans breathed a sigh of relief.

Brisbane passenger Liv Bolton stepped off the ship with her partner Clive Bolton and told the ABC they were loving life onboard.

“It’s not as bad as people are making it out. We are loving it. We feel really safe. We’ve had COVID, we’ve taken all the precautions and we’re fine … we just live with it.”=

Experienced cruisers Richard and Robin Cooper were also questioned by ABC reporters and had only good things to say.

“You’re letting people in the country who aren’t vaccinated. Everyone on the ship is at least double vaccinated with boosters. We did an anniversary cruise prior to this one…we had no trouble then either.”

As they were speaking, Qantas was dropping any vaccine mandates for international passengers.  And NSW Health declared the passengers most likely contracted COVID before getting on the ship.

The events reopened the debate over cruise.  But it was a resounding win for the restart.

Cruise Passenger’s own fraternity – our 45,000 strong Facebook following – also weighed in. Our post reached over 5,500 and 73 commented.  All were in favour of carrying on cruising.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Managing Director Australasia Joel Katz said: “This week we’re all feeling the effects of renewed attention on cruising, but years of hard work and planning mean our industry is prepared.

“As we’ve seen all over the world, cruise line health protocols have shown to be effective in mitigating the risks of Covid-19 and have allowed cruise lines and health authorities to respond swiftly when cases arise.”

Mr Katz continued: “Other countries are well ahead of us on the curve. Millions of people have sailed successfully in more than 100 other countries where ships have resumed sailing, and the effectiveness of the cruise industry’s pandemic response means more than 90% of the world fleet is back in operation.

“Though we are again in the headlines in Australia, our most important message holds true – no setting is immune to Covid-19, but we have processes in place for dealing responsibly with the virus. That is exactly what is underway.”

A point made a million times by cruise advocates over the ban and reinforced by Mr Katz was that cruise’s stringent health protocols are the best you’ll find on a holiday.

“On land in Australia we are seeing many tens of thousands of cases each day, but we have extensive measures in place to respond to any cases identified at sea.

“Our testing and vaccination requirements – together with on board measures, enhanced medical facilities and detailed response plans – are still the most extensive to be found anywhere in tourism and go much further than those you will find in most settings on land.”

Our readers brushed off the negative coverage with similar nonchalance and dismay.

Michelle Rowlands wrote: “So sick of channel nine sensationalising. No one is questioning how these thousands of cases on land are spreading but rather focus on this small number because it’s a ship?”

Sonia Jager wrote: “Australia has reported 44,000 new cases in the last 24 hours and currently has 358,000 cases and Channel 9 gets excited about 118 cases on a cruise ship. They need to get things into perspective, what a media beat up.”

Linda Bergeson Skinner wrote: ‘…the tourism industry, and the cruising sector in particular and everything related to it, was brought to its knees two years ago with COVID closures. Let these people get back to their jobs, let those seeking this type of holiday get back to enjoying their lives, without commentary from the news bureau every time someone gets a sniffle.

“I enjoyed a week on the Coral Princess just a couple of weeks ago, and they couldn’t have worked harder to ensure the safety and good health and enjoyment of all those on the ship. This should not be a setback…just a reality in all parts of our lives until COVID decides to wind down.”

As Coral Princess left Sydney Harbour – with the speed limits – the debate had subsided and The Daily Telegraph’s “Cruise from Hell” headline was a dim and distant memory.

Before her Sydney stopover the ship had docked in Eden – the Town that Loves Cruise.

The welcome couldn’t have been more different.  Volunteers, who had been briefed at a special meeting, were on the dockside to see the ship in and welcome passengers.  It was what this cruise was supposed to be.

Carnival Cruises president Marguerite Fitzgerald said instances of “severe sickness” aboard cruise ships around the world were “extremely rare” because of the strict protocols.

“We believe, and health authorities have said, that most of those guests probably brought Covid with them on to the ship when they embarked in Brisbane. We knew this was going to happen; no one expected we’d keep Covid off ships, it was just about managing it,” she said.

Passengers echoed her words.  It’s cruising’s new normal.