First cruise ship to arrive since COVID pandemic shutdown docks in Sydney

The first cruise ship to arrive in Australia since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold two years ago docked in Sydney Monday 18 April.

One day after a ban on cruise ships was lifted, P&O’s Pacific Explorer entered Circular Quay about 10:30am.

Tug boats carrying water cannons showered the cruise liner as it sailed into the city’s cruise terminal, while hordes of people watched from the shore. 

There were about 250 staff on board but no passengers.

The Pacific Explorer made the 18,000km voyage back from Cypress where the ship has been anchored with many others after the local cruise industry was shut down due to COVID.

It will depart on the first trip with passengers on 31 May, when it sails to Brisbane.

A cruise ship arrives in Sydney harbour
Cruise ships have been absent from Sydney Harbour for two years. (ABC News: Jake Lapham)

Its arrival was cause for celebration for keen cruisers who had been awaiting the industry’s return.

Corey Martin said he had grown up with cruising and had already booked three trips for later this year.

“It’s absolutely great to have them back and I’m extremely keen to get on them again,” he said.

Mr Martin was confident COVID protocols onboard would keep passengers safe.

“I’m completely comfortable and secure with my safety onboard.”

A cruise ship arrives in sydney harbour
The cruise ship arrived in Sydney this morning after sailing from Cyprus. (AAP: Bianca De Marchi)

Suzanne Carlisle wasn’t as assured and said she and her husband Allan would probably wait a year until booking their next cruise.

She said they would watch for any COVID-19 outbreaks onboard before deciding to sail.

Australia’s cruise industry was shuttered in March 2020 when international borders were closed to prevent outbreaks of COVID-19.

Cruise liner the Ruby Princess was the source of the nation’s first major cluster, with infections onboard leading to hundreds of cases across the country and almost 30 deaths.

It docked on 19 March 2020, one day before borders were closed.

Two years on, the industry says it is safe and prepared to deal with the pandemic.

People cheering
People cheer as P&O’s Pacific Explorer enters Sydney Harbour. (AAP: Bianca De Marchi)

Joel Katz, managing director of Cruise Line International Association, Australasia and Asia, said cruising had already restarted in 86 countries and carried more than 10 million passengers.

Mr Katz said agencies had reported “unprecedented” sales in recent weeks and companies had employed robust COVID-19 protocols.

“Obviously vaccinations will be key before anyone gets on the ship. Testing, so nobody is getting onboard without a negative COVID test,” he said.

Public health measures such as mask wearing, social distancing and increased ventilation would also be in place onboard, he said.

Mr Katz said ships would also have enhanced medical facilities onboard “to be able to deal with any cases that are identified while on the ship”.

People watch a cruise ship arriving
Sydneysiders celebrated the arrival of P&O’s Pacific Explorer. (AAP: Bianca De Marchi)

P&O spokesman David Jones said Australia had the world’s highest market penetration for cruising and he expected the industry to bounce back quickly now the ban was lifted.

“This is the start of the rebuilding, and our other cruise lines, and I’m sure our competitor cruise lines, have their plans now for ships to come back to the Australian market,” he said. 

“We are now looking at the possibility, a real strong one, that the 2022-23 summer cruise season will be close to normal.”

Mr Jones was confident safety protocols would minimise the spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships.

“You have to be confident about the protocols in place,” he said. 

“And you have the overseas experience of 10 million people who have cruised, the protocols were adopted in America and worked effectively to provide as far as humanly possible a safe cruising environment.”

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