The Department of Health has revealed the latest plan to bring back cruising to Australian waters in Phase Four of the federal government’s systematic approach to returning life to some sort of normality.

New regulations will demand that ships have “stronger pre-arrival health assessment and screening processes, supported by enhanced pre-arrival reporting requirements” as they approach each port or destination in states and territories.

A decision on disembarkation will then be made based on the availability of medical facilities in the event of an outbreak of disease like COVID-19.

In exclusive answers to questions put by Cruise Passenger, a Health Department spokesman says: “The resumption of cruise operations and other discretionary forms of travel will be considered in the context of the international border re-opening, and will be included in the four-phase National Plan.

“The resumption of cruising will be dependent on the capacity of state and territory health systems to respond to outbreak events, and the broader epidemiological situation in Australia. Any relaxation of requirements would be dependent on expert health advice and may be amended or reinstated at any time.”

The spokesman dashed hopes that, despite a strong lobbying campaign, the government was preparing to consider a “pathway” to a staged resumption of cruising any time soon, stating: “International cruising is not being considered at this stage.”

Cruise Lines International Association Australasia has been pressing for talks on a staged resumption for months, gathering over 40,000 cruisers to write to MPs to put the matter on the government’s agenda.

That said, it is clear a lot of thinking has gone into the return of one of the most popular form of holidays to Australia which at its height, attracted 1.3 million Australians.

The Health Department spokesman told Cruise Passenger the department was working on a COVID-19 Risk Analysis and Response Task Force report, which will be made public once finalised and set the groundwork for cruise industry consultations to resume.

But the thinking is clear from this insight: “Incoming international aircraft and vessels have existing pre-arrival reporting requirements under the Biosecurity Act 2015, which includes reporting of ill travellers on board. Before the restart of international cruise operations in Australia, the Australian Government will implement a new pre-arrival reporting and risk assessment process unique to cruise vessels.

“This new process for cruise vessels will include stronger pre-arrival health assessment and screening processes, supported by enhanced pre-arrival reporting requirements.”

It is clear the fate of the resumption of cruise is also in the hands of the success of the vaccine rollout. Phase Four of the federal government’s plan relies on 80% of the population being vaccinated.

What is not clear is what happens if a state or territory health authority decides there is a risk that health facilities could be overwhelmed or might not cope with an outbreak of sickness aboard a cruise ship.

Would it be held at port, like the Diamond Princess was in Japan in 2020 at the start of the pandemic outbreak?  Or would it move to a place where medical facilities are available?

The Health Department told us: “State and territory health authorities would assess the information provided and decide required actions on a case-by-case basis. Only in extreme circumstances could this potentially include redirecting a vessel to a port with greater health resources.”