Australia Cruise Suspension Now Expected to Pass the Two-Year Mark
Carnival Corporation’s P&O Cruises Australia announced that it is yet again extending its cancelation of cruises following the recent announcement by Australia that it would extend the country’s “biosecurity emergency period,” till February 2022 in the face of the threat from the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The cruise line pointed out that Australia is one of the few major markets not to have resumed operations and the latest extension will pass two years of cruise operations from Australia.
Australia’s Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt announced last Friday that the country would extend the heath regulations first put in place in March 2020 as “the Government continues to reopen Australia and act decisively to respond to the emergence of the Omicron variant.” The efforts include restrictions on international travel ranging from testing and mask requirements for flights to limits for unvaccinated Australians and restrictions on the entry of cruise vessels within Australian territory.
P&O said that the extension of the suspension of operations until mid-April 2022 “marks the twenty-third cruise cancellation announcement since P&O Cruises Australia’s rolling pause began in March 2020 in response to the pandemic.” The latest extension of the restrictions effectively ended hopes for the Australian summer cruise season this year. As late as November, the cruise industry had been optimistic that the Australian government was prepared to relax the restrictions.
“As we approach the two-year mark in our rolling pause in operations, it is understandable that our guests will be very disappointed and frustrated that there is still no agreed restart plan for cruising in Australia,” said Sture Myrmell, President of P&O Cruises Australia. “Federal and state governments are yet to outline their requirements for restart despite the nation’s high vaccination rate.”
Myrmell reiterated that the cruise industry has developed protocols saying they were prepared to work with the government. He said, “Reaching this two-year anniversary is discouraging,” for loyal guests, travel agents, and many suppliers whose businesses depend on cruising.
The trade group Cruise Lines International Association’s Australian organization also described the government’s actions as a “devastating blow” to the 18,000 Australians whose livelihoods depend on cruise tourism. The group has begun scrambling to work with the government in an effort to expand the current exemption for expedition cruises in the Kimberley region. They are calling on the government to increase the passenger limit to 200 for these cruises that typically begin in May and extend for a six-month season.
P&O Cruises Australia was one of the most impacted brands with Carnival’s strategy to remove older ships from the fleet during the pandemic. The line shed all but one of its ships but recently had begun preparing for the expected resumption with overhauls of larger cruise ships transferred from the U.S. Princess Cruises brand. Myrmell cautioned in the latest announcement that it will take the company “several months and significant cost” to resume operations. He anticipates extensive efforts to engage and re-train crew in addition to preparing the ships.
While most of the world’s major cruise markets have permitted cruises to resume, Australia, New Zealand, and China are among the largest markets that remain closed. Other countries in Asia, including Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, permitted domestic cruising to resume under strict restrictions, and Taiwan and Malaysia are also moving to restore operations with similar limits. China has also permitted some domestic cruise operations.