NSW is set to become to the first state to allow cruising, with a target date set for February 1 to begin intrastate itineraries. The major breakthrough ends 21 months in which cruise ships have been banned and also ends Australia’s isolation from international shipping. It is the last country to end its cruise ban.
The NSW government is working out ways which will allow international cruise ships to sail in NSW state waters, carrying only vaccinated NSW citizens. Cruise Passenger is not aware of any other restrictions at this point.
There are still issues to be worked through with NSW Health. But those close to the talks – being led by Premier Dominic Perrottet’s office – have described them as “positive”.
It is anticipated an announcement, which has been pencilled in as early as next week, will spark a scramble to recruit and crew ships, which would normally take between 60 and 90 days to return to service.
P&O Australia and Carnival would be expected to be the first to try and take advantage of the new moves. But as we reported last week, the Pacific Explorer is in Cyprus and new vessel Pacific Adventure is in Greece.
Carnival Spirit and Carnival Splendor are in the Persian Gulf.
It is believed the government will not renew the Biosecurity Act ban on foreign flagged cruise ships, which was is due to expire on December 17.
Details around crew quarantine and other measures set by the federal health authorities have yet to be revealed, though with twice vaccinated foreign students about to arrive it is hard to see how this would now prove difficult.
International sailings are expected to start in April – though this being the tail end of what would have been Australia’s cruise season, ships from the major fleets like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, Cunard and others are unlikely before next September and October.
The breakthrough came in a meeting chaired by a member of the Premier and Cabinet Office staff. NSW Health chief Kerry Chant also attended along with senior executives of the cruise industry.
The meeting took place following a strong lobbying by Cruise Lines International Association Australasia MD Joel Katz and the business community led by Business Sydney’s Paul Nicolaou.
It was March 2020 when Carnival Australia vessels were escorted out of Sydney Harbour by police launches in an extraordinary televised event which shocked cruise fans and angered many in the industry as being unnecessarily heavy handed.
It came after the Ruby Princess docked and discharged 2,700 of passengers untested. An inquiry found “serious errors” by New South Wales Health in its handling of suspected cases on board. More than 100 of the discharged passengers felt unwell yet were allowed to fly to their homes, spread the outbreak across the country. At least 900 people later tested positive. Twenty-eight died.
Today, the cruise industry has completely transformed its operations, and many lines have virtual hospitals on board, strict testing procedures, double-vaccination only guests. Ships have already sailed almost 3 million passengers around the world, including Europe and Asia.
The cruise industry maintains that, with health protocols and hospital facilities, it is now the safest pandemic holiday.
Mr Nicolaou told Cruise Passenger: “Business Sydney has been advocating strongly to both state and federal government for the return of cruising and we warmly welcome this move for a restart of intrastate cruising in February.
“Unfortunately this decision has come a month too late for the multi-billion dollar boost to Sydney’s economy that international cruising brings each summer, as the big international cruise lines have already had to cancel their summer seasons down-under. However it’s wonderful news that NSW leads the nation on the restart of intrastate cruising.
“Greater Sydney’s, especially the CBD’s, hospitality, retail, accommodation and transport sectors, along with state-wide food and beverage producers and suppliers, will all benefit greatly from the return of cruising from beautiful Sydney Harbour.
“The cruise industry has worked very hard in developing strict COVID-safe protocols to allow this to happen, including only fully vaccinated crew and passengers permitted on board, additional cleaning and ventilation measures, along with stringent monitoring of the health of all on board. It has been justly rewarded by the NSW government being the nation’s first to sign-off on the restarting of this vital contributor to the economy.”
Mr Katz said: “Discussions with the NSW Government about a future resumption of cruise operations are ongoing. At this stage there has been no announcement and further discussions are needed.”