NSW premier Dominic Perrottet has stepped in to attempt to kick-start cruising in the state, with a target date of February 1 to see ships sailing out of Sydney Harbour.
Staff from the Premier’s Office chaired talks this week between NSW Health and cruise lines representatives to find a pathway to start cruising safely and with fresh health protocols to protect against the pandemic.
Those at the talks said the meeting was “positive”, meaning NSW could be set to become to the first state to allow cruising after 21 months in which vessels have been banned from Australian waters.
It is believed there are still issues to be worked through with NSW Health. But it was suggested an announcement about the current Biosecurity Act ban on foreign flagged vessels, due to expire on December 17, could come as early as next week.
Should the go-ahead be given, it is likely that ships will initially only be able to sail in NSW waters with vaccinated NSW citizens.
If the February deadline is met, it is unlikely cruise lines would be able to get ships into Sydney from their lay-up bases around the world in under 60-90 days, meaning the first would be sailing in March.
Details around crew quarantine and other measures set by the federal health authorities have yet to be revealed, though with twice vaccinated foreign students about to arrive it is hard to see how this would now be a deal-breaker.
International sailings are expected to start in April – though this being the tail end of what would have been Australia’s cruise season, ships from the major fleets like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, Cunard and others are unlikely before next September and October.
This week’s meeting took place after a lobbying campaign by Cruise Lines International Association Australasia MD Joel Katz and the business community led by Business Sydney’s Paul Nicolaou.
The cruise industry has transformed its operations, and many lines have virtual hospitals on board, strict testing procedures, double-vaccination only guests. Ships have already sailed almost 3 million passengers around the world, including Europe and Asia.
The cruise industry maintains that, with health protocols and hospital facilities, it is now the safest pandemic holiday.
Mr Nicolaou told Cruise Passenger: “Business Sydney has been advocating strongly to both state and federal government for the return of cruising and we warmly welcome this move for a restart of intrastate cruising in February.
“Unfortunately this decision has come a month too late for the multi-billion dollar boost to Sydney’s economy that international cruising brings each summer, as the big international cruise lines have already had to cancel their summer seasons down-under. However it’s wonderful news that NSW leads the nation on the restart of intrastate cruising.
“Greater Sydney’s, especially the CBD’s, hospitality, retail, accommodation and transport sectors, along with state-wide food and beverage producers and suppliers, will all benefit greatly from the return of cruising from beautiful Sydney Harbour.
“The cruise industry has worked very hard in developing strict COVID-safe protocols to allow this to happen, including only fully vaccinated crew and passengers permitted on board, additional cleaning and ventilation measures, along with stringent monitoring of the health of all on board. It has been justly rewarded by the NSW government being the nation’s first to sign-off on the restarting of this vital contributor to the economy.”
Mr Katz said: “Discussions with the NSW Government about a future resumption of cruise operations are ongoing. At this stage there has been no announcement and further discussions are needed.”
Meanwhile Singapore, which has allowed large vessels to sail for a year, carrying 350,000 passengers without major incident, has changed the regulations governing cruise lines to allow foreign passengers like Australians to sail.
Almost 3 million passengers have sailed on cruise ships worldwide since the pandemic, and Australians are already flying out to sail on ships overseas.