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Australia Planning Cruise Restart as one of the Last Paused Markets 

Australia cruise restart
P&O cruise ship arriving in Sydney prior to the pause that began in March 2020 (P&O Cruises)

Published Feb 14, 2022 3:28 PM by The Maritime Executive

Days after announcing that it would extend its pandemic emergency measures till mid-April 2022, Australia’s federal government is taking the first steps towards resuming the international cruise business two years after the country orders all cruise ships to leave its waters. The major cruise lines have been adjusting their deployments while Australians’ option was to schedule international travel while the cruise ship industry remains on a government-ordered pause.

In the spring of 2020, after a series of high-profile outbreaks of COVID-19 linked to the cruise ships, Australia first suspended cruising and then took the unusual step of ordering the cruise ships to leave the country’s waters. Since then, despite numerous efforts by the cruise industry, the federal government has not agreed to a re-start plan. Last week, Greg Hunt, the Minister for Health and Aged Care, announced the further extension to April 17 including “restrictions on the entry of cruise vessels into and within Australian territory.”

Australia along with China remains the only large international cruise markets that are suspended. Europe and North America both reopened to cruise operations in 2021, but the South American market was paused mid-season in January 2022 after Brazil renewed its restrictions on cruising due to the spread of Omicron.

Speaking over the weekend, Hunt, revised his prior statements saying that the federal government was now working with Australia’s states and territories to re-start cruising. They plan to work with the states and cruise lines to finalize the protocols to resume cruising with Hunt saying that the states would have the final responsibility to ensure they were ready and the health protocols were in place for a safe restart.

Cruise Lines International Association’s local group welcomed the news saying that they hoped the April 17 extension would be the last for the cruise industry.  The cruise lines also called it a breakthrough development toward resuming the business.

Indications are that New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland are the states most “advanced in their consideration,” toward the resumption of cruises. This would include the major ports of Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne as likely to be the first to host cruises. CLIA, however, said it could be May or June 2022 before the first cruises could sail which would mean they were going to sea during the Australian winter after having missed the entire summer season.

The industry could also be slow to build up operations based both on the timing and the fact that ships have been repositioned to other areas of the globe. Carnival Cruise Line, just announced that two of its cruise ships, the Carnival Spirit and Carnival Splendor, were repositioning from Australia to North America. The Carnival Spirit is taking over cruises briefly from Jacksonville, Florida before moving to Alaska with her Australian’ sailings canceled through to Oct 2023 while the Carnival Splendor is also scheduled to cruise in Alaska with her Australian sailings canceled to the end of September 2022.

Many of the international cruise lines have already announced tentative schedules for their cruise ships to return to Australia late in 2022 for the next summer season. Carnival Corporation’s P&O Australia as the dedicated brand to the market will likely be the first to return to service. The company updated its fleet during the pause selling three of the cruise ships based in Australia and refitting two ships from Princess Cruises to prepare for the return to operations.