Norwegian Jewel
The Norwegian Jewel entering Sydney Harbour

Tourism minister Dan Tehan promises review as cruise ship ban expires in 13 days

Australia’s Tourism Minister Dan Tehan has promised a mid-June review of the ban on foreign flagged ships, raising hopes that the 2021 cruise season may see a sailings restart.

And in even more promising news, Health Minister Greg Hunt revealed a pilot program was being assessed with the possibility of a start in six to eight weeks to allow fully vaccinated Australians to travel overseas with a preferential quarantine on return – opening the way for fly cruise in countries like Singapore, where ships have been sailing since last November without incident.

Mr Tehan told a media conference on the future of travel he hoped cruise ships would be able to see cruise ships return to Australian and New Zealand waters soon. He said: “My hope is if we can continue managing the pandemic like we are, we will be able to see more cruise ships in our waters hopefully in the waters between Australia and New Zealand as well.” Reports quoted him as adding: “It will help airlines and it will help the wonderful holiday destinations that we have around Australia where the cruise ships stop. So to me, it’s something that we should be looking at.” In truth, however, the government is looking at the cruise industry mid-month anyway. The Biosecurity Act’s ban on foreign flagged vessels over 99 passengers expires on June 17, and the cruise industry meets with health and Australian Border Force officials fortnightly to try and agree a way forward. He said he looked forward to working with the cruise industry over the coming weeks to “increase cruising here in Australia”. But in order to progress, the industry needs the government to hand down agreed protocols to allow for a resumption of cruise, so the states can agree a management plan. So far, that has proved the stumbling block. Despite resumptions in Asia, Europe and even ultra-cautious America, the country with the world’s largest cruise penetration per capital remains stubbornly stuck without certainty. At least one cruise industry leader was in Canberra on Wednesday.  And Cruise Lines International Association Australia has been piling on the pressure.  In a dramatic change of policy, they have urged the travel industry and the public to send their MPs pleas to a cruise resumption, and they claim 33,000 have answered the call.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Managing Director Australasia Joel Katz told us this week: “CLIA and cruise lines have been working with the Australian Government throughout the cruise suspension and will continue to engage closely as we discuss the need for a clear pathway to resumption.

“Tourism Minister Dan Tehan’s comments this week in support of cruising are very encouraging after the extensive discussions our industry has been having with the government, and we’ll continue to advocate strongly on behalf of cruise passengers and the many Australian businesses that rely on the cruise economy.

“As part of its discussions with Government, CLIA has outlined extensive health protocols to support future operations. These include protocols for crew and appropriate quarantine measures for bringing international ships and staff back within an Australian bubble.

“CLIA and cruise lines are calling on the Federal Government to agree upon a clear framework for cruising to resume, beginning initially with domestic-only operations, so we can give greater certainty to cruise passengers and the Australian travel industry.”

So far, that call has gone unanswered, leading most to assume the ban on foreign flagged vessels will continued until mid-September. What does that mean for the wave season?

It takes 90 days to crew and restart a large cruise ship and bring it into Australian waters. Without a firm signal from the government, the hard-pressed cruise lines are not going to gamble on a cruise start.  So that would mean a December start at the earliest.

APT’s Caledonia sky, which is Bermuda flagged, has received permission to sail the Kimberley after recruiting 30 Australian hospitality workers – a requirement which has proved a major hurdle for larger ship operators like Carnival and Royal Caribbean. APT is virtually booked out. And Australian flagged and crewed Coral Expeditions continues to ply the Kimberley with three ships. But for those still waiting – including French flagged Ponant, which has tried hardest to get a start – sailings in 2021 continue to look uncertain.