Why cruise lines say it’s safe to return
Major cruise lines are pinning their hopes on the success of recent COVID-safe voyages in Asia to convince the federal government to allow them to sail again in Australian waters.
For the past few months, Royal Caribbean and Dream Cruises have been cruising within Singaporean waters without a recorded case of COVID-19, says Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Australasian spokesman Joel Katz.
Dream Cruises have also been conducting intracountry cruises - mainly island hopping - within Taiwan's territory since July.
The cruise liners are operating at 50 per cent capacity with no casino, buffets or spas open.
Other measures include reserved isolation cabins, social distancing for arrivals and departures, and extensive COVID testing for crew members in the lead-up to, and just before, a cruise.
Passengers must also return a negative test result before boarding.
Mr Katz said the Asian voyages were proof that the industry had world-class health protocols and could be trusted to implement a COVID-safe environment.
"There have been no positive cases on-board ships out of Singapore," the CLIA Australasia managing director told NCA NewsWire.
"There was one ship that had a suspected case, somebody presented with symptoms, and protocols kicked in and it turned out not to be a positive case."
He said major cruise lines, such as MSC, even operated out of Italy, France and Germany last year before the second wave of COVID-19 swept through Europe.
"MSC, and some of the European brands, have been operating out of Germany, Italy and France, but the second and third waves have curtailed their ability to expand," he said.
"The lessons we have learned from Europe and Asia are examples of how cruising can resume in a safe way.
"It's helpful to be able to show how protocols have worked in practice."
He hopes the successful cruises in Asia may help restore confidence in the cruise industry, which copped a battering last year following the Ruby Princess fiasco.
About 2700 passengers were allowed to disembark from the Ruby Princess on March 19 and many tested positive for the virus after using public transport or commercial flights to get home.
Cruise ships, capable of carrying 100 or more passengers, were banned from entering Australian waters in mid-March 2020.
The ban has been extended more than once and is set to expire on March 17.
Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas has sailed 15 times throughout Singapore, with each voyage lasting between three to four days, says the company's Australia and New Zealand managing director Gavin Smith.
"Many of the protocols on our Quantum sailings will be implemented across our global fleet," he told NCA NewsWire.
Mr Katz said the industry had been in regular contact with federal and state governments about a possible resumption, although there is no indication when that is likely.
He said the cruise industry had yet to commit to requiring all passengers be vaccinated before they could board.
"A vaccine may well become part of the progressions forward … and potentially support a cruise resumption," Mr Katz said.
"The industry is keeping a close eye on the vaccine and guided by the medical advice … to determine what role the vaccine has in the resumption of cruising.
He said a gradual return to Australian waters had been planned with intrastate cruises before stepping up to intracountry voyages and then trans-Tasman crossings.
Queensland, with 14 cruise stops, is more suited to intrastate travel than any other state or territory in Australia.
It's also where a new $177 million cruise terminal at Luggage Point sits idle.
When it opens, it will be Brisbane's second cruise terminal and capable of docking the world's biggest ships, ones that could not be accommodated at Portside, Hamilton.
"We've been surveying past cruise passengers and encouraged by the response, and they are telling us they want to cruise again … and are prepared to comply with health protocols so they can cruise again," he said.
Originally published as Why cruise lines say it's safe to return