In a bitter blow to the Australian cruise industry, Royal Caribbean has been forced to cancel its 2021/22 season and the visit of super liner Ovation of the Seas following the government’s refusal to talk to ship operators about a program to restart sailings.

But the line promised an even bigger season in 2022, with two Quantum class ships – and a private island for cruisers in Vanuatu.

Royal Caribbean regretfully said it had to cancel Ovation of the Seas’ December itineraries as there was no agreement from the Federal Government about when cruising might resume.

Ovation of the Seas has a season in Alaska starting in May, and a deployment of just a few weeks does not make sense for the line. Passengers have been offered refunds of up to 125 per cent.

“A clear pathway for the return of foreign flagged ships and cruising in general is yet to be established by governments in Australia. Due to this, Royal Caribbean has made the decision to cancel all sailings on Ovation of the Seas from Sydney, 13th Dec. 2021 through 31st Mar. 2022.” said a brief three-line statement.

“We know many of our guests look forward to a return to cruising and we regret the inconvenience this may cause. Booked guests and travel partners impacted will be contacted with further details. As Australia opens up, we are committed to progressing the proactive conversations with federal and state governments on recommencing cruising in Australia and hope to provide an update soon.”

Vice President and Managing Director at Royal Caribbean Cruises Gavin Smith told Cruise Passenger:  “We will be returning for the summer season late in 2022 with our biggest program ever – our first ever quantum class deployment in Brisbane, which we’re very excited about.

“We are continuing with our plans to produce a private destination in Vanuatu in late 2024.  We’ll have Ovation of the Seas back in Sydney.  We’re still going to have two of the biggest and best ships in the world in Australia and our passion for this market is undiminished.”

Royal Caribbean was the last major cruise operator to hold out hope of sailings in 2021 after Carnival moved all of its ships into 2022.

Ovation of the Seas, one of the line’s most modern ships which carries over 4,000 passengers, represented a strong commitment to Australia and New Zealand.  Royal Caribbean had continued to hold the ship as a Sydney visitor from December 13 in the hope that the Federal Government would open meaningful talks about a proposed pathway to a cruise restart.

She would have carried 50,000 passengers on holidays up and down the coast of New South Wales and Queensland, taking in tourism areas like Eden, Airlie Beach, Cairns and Port Douglas.

Australia is the last major cruise destination to continue a cruise ban – American and Europe have been successfully sailing for months and Asia since November 2020.  Royal Caribbean will have carried a million passengers by the end of this year.

According to insiders, the government has simply ignored requests for serious talks despite a clear plan for a safe and phased approach to a cruise restart from Cruise Lines International Association Australasia.  Halting cruise in Australia, a country with the largest penetration of the population anywhere in the world, has cost well over $5 billion and 18,000 jobs.

Cruise Lines International Association Australasia  MD Australasia Joel Katz said: “The cancellation is not surprising in light of the uncertainly around when cruise will be able to restart.

“With the change in leadership in NSW and the focus on reopening of international borders by the Federal Government, we do feel momentum for a cruise restart is picking up and we have had a number of positive and encouraging meetings with government in recent weeks.  There is no specific progress to report right now as we keep the pressure on all levels of government to continue to work with industry to finalise the pathway forward.”

Princess Cruises and P&O Australia last month cancelled sailings until January, 2022.

P&O, the home-grown Aussie cruise line, said it would be applying its cruise pause on departures from December 18, 2021 through to January 14, 2022 for Brisbane and January 18, 2022 for Sydney. They also announced they would be cancelling its Melbourne summer season.

“Governments have made it very clear that vaccination thresholds are the key to ending lockdowns, border restrictions and, ultimately, re-opening Australia. And part of returning to normal society is ensuring that the more than one million Australians who choose a cruise holiday each year have the opportunity to do so again,” said P&O Cruises Australia President Sture Myrmell.

“Unfortunately, we are not yet clear on the requirements from governments and public health authorities for a phased return of domestic cruising, but we remain hopeful these conversations will gather pace now there is real momentum around society re-opening.”

Princess Cruises has cancelled sailings on Coral Princess until January 17 and on Royal Princess and Sapphire Princess until March.

Numerous attempts to kick-start the industry from large operators to small luxury ships have been met with complete refusal to hold proper discussions by health officials led by the HSPCC, which comprises health beaurocrats.

There was been growing disquiet about the way in which the Federal Government has refused to discuss the cruise issue, despite some states agitating to get the industry going again.

Even Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says she wants a plan for cruising to use the state’s new Brisbane International Cruise Terminal to allow Queenslanders to cruise along the sunshine state’s coastline.

“What I’d like to see is … a plan where we could perhaps start to see some Queensland-based small cruises,” she said. “We’ll be working with the industry to see how we could progress that and we’ll be putting that to the national cabinet.”

Ms Palaszczuk said fully-vaccinated Queenslanders could trial smaller cruises up and down the Queensland coast but said the proposal was still “a few months off”.

“I know how much Queenslanders love their cruises, I was just in Hervey Bay and Bundaberg, and they were talking to me about how much they missed that,” she said.

Last month, new NSW Premier Dominic Perrotett, at the time the treasurer, said, “It doesn’t make sense when we open our international borders for people to fly overseas to go cruising without being able to do so here.”

“I’ll work closely with the Federal Government to ensure that as part of our plan to reopen borders, cruising can steam ahead alongside all aspects of the tourism industry.”

Mr Perrotett also told Cruise Passenger at the time: “The cruise industry is a very important segment of the travel market and we look forward to the great harbour in the world being able to welcome ships from around the world once again when it is safe to do so.”

The hurdle is the Federal Government committee of health officials, who simply refuse to consider plans for the cruise industry, putting it at the bottom  of the pile of tasks to be completed to return Australia to normality.