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Hopes rise as national cabinet notes “progress” on cruise return

The fate of Australia’s return to cruising now rests with the Premiers of the three Eastern states after National Cabinet issued a statement “noted” progress towards a cruise return last night.

The meeting was the last before parliament is prorogued before a general election – and with the date for the ban on foreign flagged ships currently extended to April 17, is was the last chance to get the return of cruise approved before the country starts an election campaign after the March 29 Budget.

Most believe the cruise ban won’t be extended beyond April 17. And in a carefully worded statement, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “National Cabinet noted positive progress by the eastern states and the cruise industry to develop appropriate health protocols and common guidelines to support a safe return to cruising in their jurisdictions over the coming months.”

This leaves the way open to New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland to take the lead.  The states’ three premiers have been talking for several weeks on how this can come about.
If cruise lines get the green light, luxury adventure line Ponant seems likely to be first foreign line to the ports.  It has two ships in Noumea and could beat P&O to the punch, opening the Kimberley season.
The line’s Asia Pacific chair Sarina Bratton said: “Our two ships Lapérouse and Soleal are close by in Noumea. We have commenced mobilisation of both ships and can be ready to commence Kimberley operations on Lapérouse 28 April ex Darwin (as scheduled) and May 28 ex Darwin for Soleal.”
P&O Australia’s vessels would not be ready before June or July. New Carnival boss Marguerite Fitzgerald has announced a celebration on Sydney harbour when her fleet returns.
Royal Caribbean’s Quantum class Spectrum and Ovation of the Seas are committed to an Alaska season and will be returning in October.
It takes two to three months to get a cruise ship that has been mothballed up and running, crewed and repositioned to Australia, meaning June or July at the earliest.  But that is still in winter, and Australia’s wave season officially starts in September and October.
Australia’s only locally flagged line, Coral Expedition,  has been sailing Australian itineraries for months.
The ban on foreign flagged ships was imposed at the height of the pandemic by health minister Greg Hunt in March 2020 after the Ruby Princess docked in Sydney.
Since then, the cruise industry has introduced an amazing array of health protocols, changes to ship design and medical facilities that have transformed the industry.  Some six million passengers have sailed during the last 12 months in over 80 locations without serious incident.
Australia is the last holdout among major cruising nations, and the arguments about how foreign tourists are now allowed in but cruise ships are not has become literally untenable.
The Eastern states premiers  have been working with Cruise Lines International Association Australasia behind the scenes to convince federal health officials that the cruise industry is now one of the safest options for travel.
Those close to the talks say NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and his officials have been among the most active, meeting two to three times a week to iron out questions over interstate cruising, crew quarantine and health measures on board.
Pacific sailings are being ruled out for some time to come due to low vaccination rates.
Ultimately, the decision rests with Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, quoted as telling one cruise line executive:  “I put the ban in place, I will be the one to remove it.”
Ports Australia, the national authority for the ports sector, told Cruise Passenger they are expecting cruise ships to start filling up their ports from May.

“Ports Australia is confident that the community will see the ban be lifted on 17th April as enforced by the Federal Government. We believe that shortly after 17th April there will be a return of cruise ships in May and June 2022.

“Ports around Australia are working closely with State and Federal governments to ensure the return to cruise is done safely and effectively. Ports Australia is confident that the ban on cruise vessels will be lifted on 17th April and will see cruise vessel return shortly after.”

Ports Australia has also confirmed that ports are ready and willing to accept cruise ships as soon as the ban is lifted.

“Ports have worked all through the covid 19 pandemic and ports are able to move quickly and effectively once the cruise ban has been lifted by the Federal Government. Ports Australia is supporting the cruise industry and are ready to assist in any way.

P&O Cruises have itineraries scheduled out of Sydney and Brisbane from early June, meaning Ports Australia is expecting not just these to go ahead, but perhaps cruises to even be brought forward.

“Ports Australia is keen to see Cruises return to Australia with cruises back up and running in more than 80 countries. Cruises are beneficial to many regional communities and capital cities up and down the coast as direct spending by cruise passengers was worth $1.4 billion a year before the pandemic (CLIA Economic Impact Report, 2018-19). As well as providing 18,000 local jobs.”

The Northern Territory government has confirmed that they’re also hoping for an early lifting of the cruise ban. “The Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade is aware the Australian Government is actively considering whether the Biosecurity declaration can be lifted or whether the cap on passengers could be raised.

Lifting the cap under the Biosecurity Determination is something the NT Government is keen to see happen immediately. The Northern Territory Government has communicated to the Australian Government that it is in support of this change.”

Carol Brown, the Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism says she believes the Morrison government has failed the cruise sector.

“There can be no doubt that the cruise sector is important for the Australian tourism industry including tour operators, accommodation and hospitality providers, suppliers and travel agents.

Equally, it is clear that what this sector needs is certainty, but this is being hampered by the ongoing failures of the Morrison Government. Our cruise industry and tourism sector deserve better.”

Ms Brown says she and Senator Don Farrel, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism, are continuing to advocate for a return of cruise.

Cruise Passenger  readers are likely to be among he first to sail. Over 90 per cent are triple vaccinated and 60 per cent told us in a recent poll they were ready to cruise in 2022.

Additional reporter by Tallis Boerne Marcus