After an incredible two years, the Federal Government ended the ban on foreign-flagged ships this week – and instantly, the phones started ringing around the country’s travel agents.

A huge majority of Cruise passenger readers – over 80 per cent – told us they supported the move, and almost 70 per cent were waiting for the off – so many of those calls will have come from you, our loyal readers.

Cruise Passenger’s editor-in-chief Peter Lynch spelt out what the move meant on Channel 9 just a few hours after the government’s short statement saying on A Current Affair

The 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.

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.”

First foreign flagged ships to an Australian port is likely to be a Ponant.

The luxury French expedition line said tonight: ” Our two expedition ships, Le Laperouse and Le Soleal have been waiting in Noumea for two years to return to their Australian and NZ operations. We had commenced mobilising our ships and crew when the Northern Territory Government announced the change to their Health Directions allowing the small international expedition vessels to operate.

“Le Laperouse is scheduled to pick up her schedule with the April 28 departure from Darwin, and Le Soleal will commence May 28 from Darwin.”

That beats P&O Australia, which is promising a return of the Pacific Explore by May 31.

Princess Cruises says Coral Princess will return to service early, arriving in Australia in June this year, running roundtrip Brisbane itineraries from three to 12 days long, across destinations in Queensland and New South Wales.

Royal Caribbean’s Quantum class Spectrum and Ovation of the Seas are committed to an Alaska season and will be returning in October.

Locally flagged line Coral Expeditions has been sailing for months around Australia and is now planning new itineraries for its three-ship fleet.

See other line deployments here

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.

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.

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.

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.