When, if ever, will you be able to cruise again?

By Michael Barker
Editor, Fremantle Shipping News

The fate and future of the cruise ship business worldwide is being debated and observed daily. Here’s what’s happening in Australia right now.

Over a year ago, we here at the Shipping News made some bold predictions about the future of the cruise ship industry, amongst others. It all looked pretty parlous then, and truth be told it still does.


In the northern hemisphere it’s summer. The prime time to holiday, to cruise. The cruise industry wants to get back to work. And folk who’ve been locked down in baggy, daggy track suits for so long are keen to put on their colourful cruise outfits and get back on deck sipping pina coladas.

They, however, all of them are running into all sorts of obstacles. The US CDC – Centre for Disease Control – which issues the Covid orders that affect the US cruise business, and by extension, the rest of the world, have imposed strong regulations over cruising that have met with strong industry resistance.

Just recently, the State of Florida – from which around 60% of US sourced cruises embark -started a legal action to effectively set aside the CDC restrictions. It believes no one should have to wear masks on a cruise, for example. Last Friday, a judge sided with Florida and issued a temporary injunction preventing enforcement of the CDC’s requirements. The judge considered making the CDC requirements mandatory was ‘arbitrary and capricious’.

And all this is happening just a short time after, first, some passengers – ‘guests’ – on one cruise ship tested Covid positive after a Caribbean cruise commenced, and then, just before another departed, a number of crew tested positive. Here’s the detail of these recent events. Who’d want to go cruising in those circumstances without comprehensive protocols being in place? Well, in Florida, apparently many. But here in Australia?

Vasco da Gama

Well, here in Australia, the cruise industry and we the punters have both been anxious to get cruising again, just as in the States. There was an embargo imposed by the Federal Government last March on entries of people and vessels into Australia until June. Ten days ago Health Minister Hunt extended the effective ban through to September. One suspects the goings on in the Caribbean were at least part of the reason. Everyone is disappointed, not least the cruise companies which must be haemorrhaging money like they’re a central bank trying to prop up a small country’s economy in the middle of a pandemic.

It has been estimated by the Cruise Line Industry Association- CLIA – that by the end of 2020, about $14.1 billion in direct expenditures and $32.7 billion in total expenditures created by the cruise industry worldwide would have been lost due to the suspension of voyages. And that by March 2021, the one-year anniversary of the clampdown on cruising, the losses would surpass $17 billion and $39 billion, respectively. For Australia, the losses have been mentioned in the region of $6 billion.

Here’s what Minister Hunt had to say on 10 June 2021.

The human biosecurity emergency period under the Biosecurity Act 2015 will be extended for a further three months.

The emergency period, which has been in place since 18 March 2020 to protect Australians during the COVID-19 pandemic, will continue until 17 September 2021.

The extension, declared by the Governor General today, was informed by specialist medical and epidemiological advice provided by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) and the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer.

The AHPPC has advised that the international COVID-19 situation continues to pose an unacceptable risk to public health.

The extension of the emergency period is an appropriate response to that risk.

The human biosecurity emergency declaration ensures the Government has the powers to take any necessary measures to prevent and control COVID-19.

This extends the four existing emergency determinations including:
* mandatory pre-departure testing and mask wearing for international flights
* restrictions on the entry of cruise vessels within Australian territory
* restrictions on outbound international travel for Australians
* restrictions on trade of retail outlets at international airports.

To date, these and other measures have greatly assisted in protecting Australia by preventing and controlling the entry, emergence, establishment and spread of COVID-19.

We will continue to review these determinations regularly to take into account the latest medical advice.

The Government also continues to consult with the States and Territories and the maritime industry on options for the staged resumption of cruising when the medical advice is that it is safe to do so.

These measures in place under the Biosecurity Act 2015 the can be amended or repealed at any time.

Needless to say, the cruise industry, which following representations to Government had been hopeful of being able to open up again in June in and out of Australia, are bitterly disappointed with this outcome.

Joel Katz, managing director CLIA – Cruise Lines Industry Assocation – recently said:

“After months of discussions with the Government, the suspension has been extended again without any clear route from the Government towards a careful and responsible resumption of cruising. The cruise industry has done an enormous amount of work to implement extensive new health protocols globally, but Australia is now the only major cruise destination in the world where there is no progress towards their adoption.”

There is however a glimmer of hope and good news for would be cruisers. A few small cruise ships have received permission to resume sailings. For example, the 120-guest Caledonian Sky will shortly sail the Kimberley after the vessel was forced to hire an all Australian hospitality workforce. Another, Coral Expeditions, is currently sailing with three of its small vessels in the Kimberley.

Caledonian Sky. Credit: Vessel Finder

The pressure to get more cruise ships back at work will undoubtedly grow. And the punters are getting restless. But in WA, we suspect you only have to mention the Artania and other cruise ships to get the Premier ‘Admiral’ McGowan arching an eyebrow and Sandgropers generally nervous.

* This article was written by Michael Barker