(9:25 p.m. AEST) -- One of Australia's smallest ships has made the biggest progress in the nation's cautious return to cruising. Seven months since cruise ports were closed across the country, Coral Expeditions' Coral Discoverer departed its homeport of Cairns, Queensland, on Wednesday evening (October 14) for a seven-night sailing to the Great Barrier Reef.
With a maximum capacity of 72 passengers, the Australia-flagged ship is exempt from the current cruise ban, which applies only to vessels carrying more than 100 guests.
This first voyage has 45 passengers, mostly Queenslanders, and 24 Australian crew, all of whom were required to undergo a PCR test for COVID-19, a health assessment by a GP and a temperature check before boarding. Daily temperature checks, social distancing and hand-sanitising will also be conducted throughout the voyage.
The precautions are part of Coral Expeditions’ SailSafe Plan, which was devised to obtain final approval for the 2020/21 summer season. Australia has relatively low cases of COVID-19, with the state of Queensland almost virus-free (four active cases and no community transmission, according to the latest reports).
"Today is a significant milestone and the beginning of a new era as we take small steps towards recovery," said Mark Fifield, general manager, Coral Expeditions. "The Great Barrier Reef is in the company’s DNA after 35 years of running expeditions in this region and so it is fitting that we restart here at home."
Fifield, who is onboard the cruise, thanked the line's loyal clientele for their supportive phone calls and emails over the past six months.
"It has kept us motivated and focused and we will be forever grateful for this," he said.
"Our brand has always offered the promise of adventure and freedom off the beaten trail, and we are confident that our passion, our Australian crew and guests, our safety focus and our small vessels with under 100 guests are the right product for the times ahead."
Roundtrip from Cairns, the ‘Outerknown Adventures of the Great Barrier Reef’ itinerary includes calls at Cooktown, Lizard Island, Hope Island, Osprey Reef, Ribbon Reef and Fitzroy Island. Another eight cruises are scheduled for this year, departing every Wednesday until December 9. Special offers include $500 travel credit, no solo supplements, half-price fares for kids and pre-cruise hotel accommodation in Cairns.
Coral Expeditions is also engaged in discussions with local authorities to potentially offer summer cruises in Tasmania and, in a first for the line, South Australia in early 2021.
The only other cruises operating in Australia are True North’s expeditions in the Kimberley on a 45-passenger yacht and Captain Cook Cruises’ sailings on the Murray River. Cruising on large ships is not expected to resume until next year.
To follow the Coral Discoverer cruise, a voyage log will be updated daily.