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Cruise restart rests with states as passengers express anger at government inactivity

Cruise ship operators are pinning their hopes of a cruise return on NSW, with a meeting with NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard this week proving productive.

The talks took place on Thursday, and are believed to follow the federal government indicating that Canberra will not continue the ban on foreign flagged ships after its expiry on December 17 if a state can be found to allow intra-state sailings.

Cruise Lines International Association Australasia MD Joel Katz, who was present at the talks, told Cruise Passenger: “We’re pleased to have had further engagement with the NSW Government and our conversations have been productive. We are looking forward to having further discussions so that we can work together towards achieving a careful and responsible resumption of cruising in our region.

“Close cooperation with governments will be important throughout Australia and so we will continue to focus on having detailed conversations in all states and at all levels, so that we can provide clarity for the many Australians who love to cruise and the thousands of Australians whose jobs depend on cruise tourism.”

The talks come as cruise lines report growing dissatisfaction among clients with the lack of progress on a cruise return, considering 23 other countries are already allowing sailings to resume.

Royal Caribbean, which was recently forced to cancel a season when Ovation of the Seas would be based in Sydney from December, received considerable feedback expressing anger at the federal government’s tardy response.

Gavin Smith, MD of Australia and New Zealand, said: “When we cancelled the Ovation season, ruining the holiday plans of thousands of Australian families, all of the feedback we received was critical of the government and how slow they are to permit cruising to return.

“I will say that social media was more dismayed than angry. The sentiment of guests was simply asking the government to get out of the way and allow Aussies to get back to one of their favourite holiday experiences.

“Our past guests understand the health and safety obligations of restarting cruising, and they trust Royal Caribbean to care for and protect them, to make responsible decisions about their welfare – they expect vaccination requirements, mask wearing, social distancing etc The other sentiment is that if all crew and all eligible guests are vaccinated, and the community ashore is vaccinated, what is the risk? What is the government actually waiting for?”

In Canberra, the resumption of cruise operations are being considered by various Australian Government agencies in the context of the National Plan to transition Australia’s National COVID-19 Response, according to the ministry in charge of infrastructure.

But a spokesperson told Cruise Passenger agreeing a process and timeframe for cruise operations to resume in Australia also requires the support of the states and territories.

“On 5 November 2021, National Cabinet noted a paper on international cruise ship reopening. National Cabinet noted that states and territories will control the recommencement of cruises in each jurisdiction when the Commonwealth Minister for Health and Aged Care has revoked the Biosecurity (Human Biosecurity Emergency)(Human Coronavirus with Pandemic Potential)(Emergency Requirements for Cruise Ships).”

We were told that the paper presented to Cabinet could not be released without an application under Freedom of Information. A spokesperson for Mr Hazzard refused to comment on the discussions.

This week, P&O cancelled cruises from Fremantle, Adelaide and Cairns in a disappointing move that affects hundreds of holidays and continues the economic impact.

P&O President Sture Myrmell said:  “With more than 80 per cent of Australia’s adult population fully vaccinated, society is rapidly re-opening and travel is progressively resuming.  There is a need for governments to engage with the cruise sector on a pathway for the staged resumption of domestic cruising.”

Meanwhile, the cruise industry has released new statistics that show the number of passengers who have sailed worldwide since ocean cruise operations resumed last year has now passed 3 million people, while governments in Australia and New Zealand are still yet to agree on plans for a local revival.

Mr Katz said cruising had now resumed in 52 countries worldwide and that Australasia remained one of the only major cruise regions where governments had not progressed plans for resumption.

“Worldwide, more than 70% of CLIA cruise line ocean-going ships are back in operation and we expect that figure to reach 80% in December,” Mr Katz said. “This is a remarkable achievement, and it shows the effectiveness of the cruise industry’s new health protocols introduced in response to the global pandemic.”

“Although we’ve made enormous progress in other countries, in Australia and New Zealand international cruise operations are still suspended and tens of thousands of jobs are in doubt while we have no clear indication from governments on a path to revival,” he said.

CLIA has released a new video on social media highlighting the work cruise lines have done in response to the pandemic and the industry’s readiness for a careful resumption in Australasia. Posted as part of CLIA’s Ready, Set, Sail campaign, the video is now available to share via CLIA’s Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn channels.

“This latest campaign targets cruise guests and local communities to show how much work has been done by cruise lines and the need for action from governments,” Mr Katz said. “We are encouraging our supporters to share the video and tag Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and other state leaders.”