As the Australian industry continues to grapple with the fallout from New Zealand’s dramatic ban on Ponant’s Auckland cruises, many fear the move may have wider consequences.
Industry leaders have been stepping up their attempts to persuade the federal government top lift its ban on foreign flagged ships, due to end on March 17.
And small ship lines like Ponant, Silversea and APT, which all have itineraries in the iconic Kimberley for its season between April and October, are anxious for special dispensation to meet high demand.
Ponant’s success in New Zealand was to have been an important bargaining chip, demonstrating the viability of a phased and carefully controlled resumption.
Le Lapérouse was supposed to be in the vanguard, sailing seven cruises out of Auckland from February 8th. The line had permission from the NZ Health Department, but as the ship was about to enter territorial waters last weekend after a journey of more than 3,000 kms, the Immigration Department stepped in and refused visas for 61 of the 90-strong crew.
The authorities even threatened to arrest the ship and imprison some crew members.
The sailings were supposed to be an important test, and to demonstrate to Australia that small-ship adventure cruising could be carried out smoothly.
Instead, it turned into a political farce and the line was forced to abandon 700 paying passengers and leave, a move which has cost the New Zealand economy millions.
The Kimberley is a regular and highly popular small ship destination. Coral Expeditions will currently be the only blue ocean line there, with one other one-ship line also sailing.
Now, the season rests on whether or not the federal government is prepared to make an exception and allow sailings.
Cruise lines International Association Australasia MD Joel Katz told Cruise Passenger of the Ponant issue: “Ponant has worked for many months to get approval for their NZ season from the Ministry of Health based on the extensive health protocols the industry has implemented, included testing and quarantining of crew, and comprehensive COVID prevention, mitigation, and response plans.
“These extensive protocols have successfully been implemented in other jurisdictions, including Singapore and Taiwan, and even closer to home here in Australia, where for the past few months cruise lines have been cruising without a recorded case of COVID-19. Offering local cruises to locals only, with reduced capacity, social distancing, enhanced medical facilities and extensive COVID testing, these voyages demonstrate that local cruising can resume in a carefully managed way.
“Australia and New Zealand’s success in stemming community transmission, creates the opportunity for a phased resumption of cruising, initially offering local cruising for locals only while international borders remain closed.”