Cruise News: Plans for a return to sailing soon

Federal and state health department officials are working with the cruise industry to roll out a plan for the phased restart of itineraries in Australia.

Australia’s only locally flagged and crewed fleet, Coral Expeditions, has already started sailing in Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania – to rave reviews.

Coral Expeditions is, so far, the only line officially able to sail the Kimberley this season. Australia’s small ship pioneers have three ships ready to tackle this destination.

Read more: Coral Expeditions restarts cruising in Australia

It’s a promising sign that other lines can return to sailing soon.

“The Australian government, including the Department of Health, is considering the parameters around any future resumption of cruise operations in Australia and is consulting with the AHPPC, other national health committees and the cruise industry during these considerations,” a federal health spokesperson told Cruise Passenger last week.

Talks are already underway for the resumption of small ships and day or overnight cruising as a way to get the industry moving.

“Options being considered include a staged approach to cruise resumption, which would take into account the Australian COVID-19 epidemiological situation and be consistent with the broader relaxation of COVID-19 travel restrictions, both domestic and international,” added the spokesperson.

“At this time, there has been no date set for the resumption of either larger domestic or international cruises.

“Day cruises and smaller domestic cruises on ships with fewer than 100 passenger berths are permitted under the current national cruise ship ban, subject to state and territory requirements and restrictions.”

The cruise industry delivers $5 billion and thousands of jobs to Australia – a point consistently made by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Australia’s managing director, Joel Katz.

“We’ve been reiterating the message that reinstating cruise is not about taking a risk or undoing the great work our countries have done managing COVID-19. This is also about helping to get our travel agents, regional port communities, farmers and other food suppliers, hotels, tour operators, and the broader tourism sector, back on their feet,” Mr Katz told Cruise Passenger.

Read more: CLIA director tells how cruising will look post-pandemic

“The great success in other regions by cruise lines in Europe, Singapore and Taiwan, and closer to home here in Australia, with Coral Expeditions already operating domestic cruising, is an important step forward for the industry and the pathway to an eventual safe return of cruise in Australia.

“Coral Expeditions kicking off its first South Australia itinerary following successful cruises in Queensland and Tasmania, is encouraging news and demonstrates that there is a blueprint for the safe return of cruise offering local cruises for locals while international borders remain closed.”

The current ban on cruise ships runs through to 17 March 2021, as the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) said cruise ships posed a high risk of transmission for COVID-19 in the current global and domestic situation.

“Above all, the government will need to be assured that cruise ships can operate in a COVID-safe way and that the risk of transmission is acceptably low before cruise operations will be permitted in Australian waters,” said a Health Department spokesperson.

Read more: The benefits of small-ship cruising

Another small ship cruise favourite, APT, is working with WA, NT and QLD governments as well as key federal government departments towards recommencing cruising.

“While our first domestic departures are still several months away, we know the situation will continue to evolve and we will continue to be guided by government regulations. We are in regular contact with all the appropriate authorities including the federal and state governments as well as state border control authorities,” said APT group managing director Chris Hall

“The interest in cruising within Australian waters has been overwhelming and we look forward to welcoming our Australian-owned small ship, MS Caledonian Sky, back to Australian waters.

MS Caledonian Sky hosts 99 guests plus crew and is scheduled to commence cruising in Cairns with two Queensland cruises, then the ship will head to Western Australia in May for our sold-out Kimberley Coast cruises. The ship will stay in the west until late September.”

Luxury line Ponant has also announced new “Australia for Australians” itineraries.

“For Australians eager to explore our own backyard, Ponant has announced the return of two of its modern fleet of small luxury expedition ships, Le Laperouse and Le Soleal, to Australian waters in 2021 – an exciting new collection of eight immersive ‘must-do’ itineraries featuring Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, New South Wales and Queensland coasts,” said Ponant in a statement.

“Australia for Australians, these new itineraries – each offering tempting back-to-back voyage opportunities – showcase the fascinating and multifaceted diversity of wilderness, wildlife, heritage and cultural encounters, many unique, found along Australia’s coastline.”

The minister in charge of Australia’s tourism portfolio, Dan Tehan, has sparked optimism for cruisers and cruise lines.

“The cruise industry has done a lot of work to make sure that cruising now is COVID safe. They’ve put protocols in place, so people should be confident to be able to go and book cruises,” he said.

 “They also should be confident to be able to book, you know, wonderful vacations right across this nation, because we’ve got so many wonderful places to see – whether you’re doing it as part of a cruise around our coastline, or going to visit just the wonderful places right across the nation.”

Are you ready to set sail when the time is right? For you, when will that time be right? What would it take to get you back onboard?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.