The Coral Expeditions fleet is currently moored in Cairns. But the vessels, crewed by Australians and New Zealanders, are one of only a tiny number of locally flagged cruise ships.
Buoyed by the idea of cruising in a Covid-free “bubble”, the line is taking bookings for local cruises and itineraries to “remote shores and unpopulated islands”, according to Commercial Director Jeff Gillies.
He is also praying Queensland will soon open its borders.
Coral Expeditions has been sailing Australia for 35 years, and while Mr Gillies told the Australian Financial Review recently that it was “a bit more expensive to fly the Australian flag with higher operational costs”, he believes it gives him a strong marketing edge. Especially in a coronavirus environment.
“It is associated with the highest maritime standards, which now has us well positioned as an exceptionally low-risk cruise option for local consumers,” he told the newspaper.
But will it make the difference between cruising or not? Can cruise create its own “bubble”?
If a ship, cleaned and disinfected and crewed entirely by Australians or New Zealanders and declared Covid-free, sailed around our shores, would this satisfy state and territory health authorities?
Australian union leaders are understandably keen to get the matter discussed.
“I think this is the only opportunity in my lifetime to make some changes and make these people live up to the standards that we expect,” Dean Summers, the Australian Coordinator for the International Transport Workers Federation, told The GuardianAustralia this week. “Australia should be paving the way for an Australian cruise ship industry.”
The major cruise lines believe that a move to an Australian crew would make the vessel unviable as a business. Fares would be too high, and workplace restrictions would add to costs.
But by how much?
We weren’t able to find anyone who has modelled the results of an Australian crew working a large cruise ship. We’d certainly like to hear from you if you know of such research. Not even the Maritime Union of Australia, which has been running a campaign to save Australian shipping for several years, has run the numbers.
“The Australian government not only has a unique opportunity but a moral obligation, to learn from the Covid-19 pandemic and radically reform the way the cruise ship industry is regulated before allowing operations to restart in Australian waters,” the union’s national secretary, Paddy Crumlin, told The Guardian Australia.
“The Morrison government should use their strong bargaining position with multinational cruise lines desperate to restart operations to negotiate for these vessels to be registered in Australia, crewed by Australian workers, and governed by Australian laws.”
Asked if the union had researched what this would cost and how it would work, a union spokesperson said they couldn’t find anyone who had.
So in a distinctly unscientific piece of detective work using the back of the proverbial envelope, we tried to piece together what the Pacific Aria, one of P&O fans’ favourites, might look like with a Green and Gold complement.
The 1,280-passenger vessel has a staff of 602. According to Indeed, the employment site, the average support worker salary on Carnival is $21,340 and a manager can earn $75,489.
Say we use the annual pay rates of the Royal Australian Navy of $61,541 for an able seaman and $97,272 for a Petty Officer as a base for our Aussie crew.
According to many sites, a captain earns $153,000 – which seems a little low, but we better have one or there will be a mutiny.
Now let’s say 402 of the crew currently earn the “support workers” salary of $21,340 a year, and 200 are running the ship on a manager’s rate of $75,489. That makes a very rough estimated annual wage bill of able seaman’s salary, and 200 earn the salary of a Petty Officer. That makes a total annual bill of $23,676,480.
For our Aussie crew, let’s use the same number (some would have it that Australian labour laws would mean we’d need more) and let’s say our 402 wait staff, chefs and other support workers earned an able seaman’s wage of $61,541 a year, while the marine complement earned $97,272. And let’s not forget our captain on $153,000. That would make a total of $44,249,610.
Not quite twice as much, but close – leaving $20,573,130 to find for our green and gold ambitions.
Now we are running out of space on our envelope – but let’s make one last calculation. The Aria has 1,280 passengers, and let’s assume the sales staff do their jobs and she runs at capacity 48 weeks a year, giving you 61,440 to share that extra wages bill.
So using these completely unreliable numbers, it would appear that every passenger would face a bill of $334.84 extra a week to pay for an Australian.
So given all the riders, why are we even doing these sums?
Firstly, like so many cruise fans, we’d like to cruise again. Yet not one of the lines which maintain their are “local” has considered an out-of-the-box idea to make things happen.
When we approached P&O, the line’s spokesperson said:” Cruising is a global business and the recruitment of crew reflects the industry’s international scope and the longstanding nature of the business model.
“We are not contemplating a change to this business model in our region and we don’t see current arrangements as an obstacle to the resumption of cruising when the time is right.”
P&O’s clientele might well be a little more price sensitive than Coral Expeditions, where a wonderful itinerary to Ningaloo and the Bluewater Wonders of Australia’s West costs some $965 a day. Eleven nights on the new Pacific Adventure next year (we are discarding quad cabins as we’re not sure they will be available) in an ocean view cabin costs $149.90.
So would you spend an extra $300 pp per week so your ship was crewed by Aussies?