The chair of Cruise Lines International Association Australasia says the Northern Territory’s halt to a Kimberley season demonstrates the challenge while there are no federal government guidelines.

Last weekend, the Territory health department revealed new rules which virtually grounded the plans of six small ship expedition lines to sail the Kimberley this season –  allowing only 100 people – passengers and crew – and only two vessels at any one time.
Businesses in Darwin, which was to have been a turnaround port, are up in arms claiming they will lose $20 million worth of business.

Cruise lines are more conciliatory, trying to find a solution.

CLIA chair and Royal Caribbean MD Gavin Smith told Cruise Passenger: “It just illustrates the challenge we have. While we’re still waiting for federal government guidelines, we‘ve got state agencies coming out with local rules. That just makes a start in multiple states a continuing challenge.”

The shock move by the NT government highlights the struggle cruise lines are facing as they try and overcome prejudice and explain the huge strides the industry has made in ship technology and disease management since the pandemic paused cruising for a year.

Mr Smith praised efforts by a government working group, and said relationships were good. But progress had been slow, though all were aware it takes 90 days to get a ship from anchorage to Australia.

If no agreement on protocols is reached by July, an Australia’s wave season in September is under threat.

Gavin Smith, Managing Director Australia and
Gavin Smith, Royal Caribbean managing director Australia and New Zealand

“We don’t seem to be able to build momentum over an extended period because of different local issues. Our message to the government is: ‘We’re here, we’re willing, we’re cooperating but that the rules and understanding of the virus is changing very quickly.”

But Mr Smith added: “There doesn’t seem to be any hurry. And as an industry group we’re a little bit more urgent.”

In the US, frustration with the American government’s Centre for Disease Control has led cruise lines to offer itineraries from Bermuda, beyond US territorial waters. Mr Smith maintains the Australian lines are continuing to work on agreement, offering interstate cruising, then intra state itineraries with Australian passengers only.

“We’re trying to work as an industry as consistently as we can with the federal government, and as difficult as it is, as with the Northern Territory, local solutions end up prevailing.

“So whilst we don’t have federal guide lines for cruise returning to service, you’ve got a territory government taking a decision in the best interests of their population.

“Their principal concern is cruise passengers overwhelming the health care system in the Northern Territory,  and we’re going out of our way to bring the Territory government up to date with our progress to stop the virus getting on board the ships and manage it if it does, and not be a burden to NT health.”

Mr Smith is still optimistic for an Australian cruise season. He points to the success of Singapore and the cooperation of the government – Singapore’s Health Department provides observers on the two lines which have sailed with 150,000 passengers since November – as a model for what could happen here.

“Everyone is working towards achieving it and we certainly haven’t given up on an October to December season, albeit part of our proposition is we would restrict early cruises to be domestic short sailings intra state, followed by interstate – somewhere around 5-8 days would be the plan, staying close to home.”