The Federal Government has announced it will lift the ban on foreign flagged ships from April 17th, ending two years which halted cruising for all but Australian registered vessels.
In an announcement this morning, the federal government said: “On the basis of medical advice, the Australian Government will not renew the ban on international cruise ships arriving and departing from Australian ports, when the current determination expires on April 17.”
The government has increased some safety measures, including:
Enhanced pre-arrival reporting and identification of COVID-19 risk through more questions of passengers and improved processes.
Amendments to the Biosecurity (Negative pratique) Instrument 2016 to ensure cruise vessels always arrive in negative pratique (that is, permission to unload passengers and cargo).
Stress testing of the emergency response system in relation to cruises.
Engaging with the cruise industry on safe resumption.
Passengers will be required to be double vaccinated.
But now the three eastern states – NSW, Victoria and Queensland – will be free to set their own regulations for the cruise resumption.
Cruise Lines International Association Chair Gavin Smith of Royal Caribbean said: “A grand day for the cruise industry – some detail to work through with NSW Public Health, however everything is coming together for a restart in the coming weeks.
“Now the hard work begins – implementing our tried and tested onboard protocols that will keep Aussies safe, building confidence amongst consumers and delivering world class holiday experiences. Let’s get back to what we do best – creating life long memories for Aussie families.”
P&O immediately said they would race to resume in May, and launched a new 2022 program of sailings from Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne.
The line said: “The next important step is for state governments to reopen their ports to cruise ships. Discussions are progressing with Commonwealth and the eastern states to finalise a set of health protocols and guidelines ahead of a re-start.
“P&O Cruises President Marguerite Fitzgerald said the cruise line was excited to be working towards re-starting operations on May 31, 2022, subject to government approval, and had begun preparations for the staggered return of its three-ship fleet and crew.
“We’ll be working closely with government agencies on our return which will see us visit about 20 ports around the country after an absence of more than two years,” Ms Fitzgerald said. “Australia has long been one of the world’s strongest cruise markets and as the nation’s only home-grown cruise line we are thrilled at the thought that our loyal guests will be travelling with us again very soon.”
Ms Fitzgerald said the rolling pause in cruising over the past two years meant the cruise line had to revise its deployment schedule for 2022 to ensure it could restart operations smoothly.
Under the new program, Australian cruising will now resume when Pacific Explorer sails from Sydney on May 31 on a four-night roundtrip cruise to Brisbane, where the ship is scheduled to make the first call at the city’s new cruise terminal on June 2.
Pacific Explorer will then sail from Sydney on a series of Queensland and South Pacific cruises until late October, replacing Pacific Adventure’s scheduled program. While most cruise itineraries will remain unaltered by the change of ships, a 10-night cruise to Vanuatu departing June 1 has been replaced with three shorter domestic cruises.
Pacific Adventure will now begin her maiden season of cruises from Sydney on October 22, when Pacific Explorer will sail to Adelaide for a new mini-season of four cruises. Pacific Explorer will redeploy to Melbourne in November for three months, before returning to Adelaide in February 2023 for a longer season of nine cruises.
Meanwhile, the Brisbane debut of Pacific Encounter has been rescheduled from June 4 to August 20, 2022, prompting the cancellation of 15 cruises.
Ms Fitzgerald said the cruise line deeply regretted the cancellation of the cruises and any changes to itineraries and apologised to all affected customers.
“Unfortunately, the shifting landscape over the past two years made it very difficult for us to anticipate when and where we would return to cruising. Now we have more clarity and growing confidence, we have reset our plans to stagger the resumption of cruising in a way that enables us to bring our ships and crew back to Australia as smoothly as possible.”
Ms Fitzgerald said P&O would be working closely with agents and affected guests to explain the changes and rebook them on new cruises.
The cruise line will also liaise closely with the governments of Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu on the planned return of cruising to those countries in the second half of this year.
“Our new schedule anticipates a return to the South Pacific from August, but we will be working closely with governments throughout the region, as well as our industry partners, to ensure this is possible and that we meet all local protocols,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
She said the cruise line looked forward to supporting its suppliers across fresh produce, maritime and logistics, entertainment, shore tours and travel agency once again and to contribute to economies throughout Australia.
Guests whose bookings are affected by today’s announcement will be notified of the options available either directly or via their appointed travel agent.
Guests can track the progress of their future cruise credit, booking transfer, or refund request via the tracking tool found on P&O’s website at www.pocruises.com.au.
The government’s statement was issued at lunchtime today.
It said: “International cruise ships will still need to meet all state and territory public health requirements of the jurisdiction into which they berth. State and territories will advise their readiness to receive cruise ships.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the decision allow the ban to lapse was based on medical advice. “On the basis of medical advice and with the agreement of National Cabinet, lifting the cruise ban is consistent with the reopening of Australia’s international border and shows that we have successfully navigated Australia’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Minister Hunt said.
Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews said the Australian Border Force stands ready to welcome international cruise ship passengers and crew back to Australia.
“In 2019, before the pandemic, Australia welcomed more than 600,000 cruise ship passengers across the border from almost 350 vessels,” Minister Andrews said.
“The cruise ship industry plays an important role in our tourism sector and forms part of the Morrison Government’s plan to bolster our economic growth as we recover from the pandemic.
“I can’t wait to see our cruise terminals once again filled with arriving international passengers, getting this important industry ship-shape and back out on the water once more.”
Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Dan Tehan, said the resumption of cruising in Australia was an important milestone in the Government’s COVID-19 response.
“This is great news for the cruise industry, tourism, the broader economy and the Australians who love to take a cruise holiday,” Minister Tehan said. “The resumption of cruising is another key step forward in the tourism sector’s recovery from COVID-19.
“We look forward to welcoming cruise ships and passengers back to Australian waters.”
More than 94 per cent of Australians over the age of 16 have had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and more than 12 million Australians have had a booster vaccination.
Australian cruises have had Coral Expeditions sailing safely for many months.
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 told Cruise Passsenger: “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.”
Royal Caribbean’s Quantum class Spectrum and Ovation of the Seas are committed to an Alaska season and will be returning in October.
Cruise Lines International Association Australasia, which has been fighting hard to get the government to lift the cruise ban, said: “Today’s announcement is a huge breakthrough for more than 18,000 Australians who depend on cruise tourism, including travel agents, tour operators, food and produce providers, entertainers, port workers and many other industry suppliers”
CLIA Managing Director Australasia Joel Katz said: “The suspension of cruising over the past two years has cost the Australian economy more than $10 billion and we now have an opportunity to work on a revival.”
Mr Katz said more than 8 million people had already sailed in more than 80 other countries where cruising had resumed, with stringent new health measures in place.
“Cruising has changed enormously in response to the pandemic and the work our industry has done with medical experts internationally has resulted in health protocols that are among the most extensive to be found anywhere in world tourism,” Mr Katz said.
“These protocols span the entirety of the cruise experience and provide some of the highest possible levels of prevention, detection, and mitigation, including vaccination and testing requirements for all passengers and crew before boarding.”
Mr Katz said there was still much preparation to complete before cruise ships could return to Australian waters.
“Cruising involves long lead-times, so it is essential that state governments and health authorities continue to work closely with the industry in the coming weeks to finalise detailed operational plans for resumption.”
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.
Today, with 86 countries welcoming back cruise, Australia is one of the last to allow ships back.
Today’s cruise ships have 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.
Pacific sailings are being ruled out for some time to come due to low vaccination rates. New Zealand has yet to allow ships back.
Ports Australia, the national authority for the ports sector, told Cruise Passenger at the weekend 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.”
Business, which have lost billions during the cruise ban, reacted swiftly.
Steve Biviano, General Manager, Select Fresh Providores said: “We represent the farmers and growers who produce the fresh produce that is a mainstay of the cruising experience. Our business has been severely impacted but we now see the prospect of our warehouse again being filed with fresh produce bound for cruise ships.”
Dan Russell, General Manager of travel agency Clean Cruising said: “We are a Brisbane-based family-owned business that has specialised in cruise holidays for more than 15 years. News of the cruise ban being lifted is what we have been waiting for and we now look to the states to also play their part in enabling the resumption of cruising.”