December 10, 2021
(Updated 2:10 a.m. AEST) -- The Australian government Friday extended by two months a ban on foreign-flagged cruise ships. The ban is now in effect until February 17, 2022, nearly two years since it was established in March 2020.
Greg Hunt, the country’s health minister, had earlier suggested cruise ships could be back before Christmas.
In extending the country’s “human biosecurity emergency period,” Hunt cited the new Omicron variant as a reason for concern.
"The extension of these arrangements made by the Governor-General was informed by specialist medical and epidemiological advice provided by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) and the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer," Hunt said in a statement. "Continuation of these arrangement will allow the important measures currently in place to continue as the Government continues to reopen Australia and act decisively to respond to the emergence of the Omicron variant."
Cruise Lines International Association Australasia responded with its own statement, calling the extension “devastating” to the 18,000 Australians who work in cruise tourism and a disappointment to travelers with cruise holiday plans.
Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises Australia are among cruise lines that earlier cancelled Australia itineraries. This week Carnival Cruise Line cancelled further sailings on Carnival Splendor and Carnival Spirit, until the second week in April 2022.
In addition to restricting cruise vessels within Australian territory, the biosecurity extension also extends mandatory pre-departure testing and mask wearing for international flights, restrictions on international travel from high risk countries and restrictions on outbound international travel for unvaccinated Australians.
In October, the Australian government was signalling travel would once again be on the table for Aussies looking to vacation at home and abroad, but domestic cruises in Australian waters still remain in limbo.
The ban on international travel for fully-vaccinated Australians is set to be lifted in November after having been in place since March of 2020. The new relaxed restrictions do not, however, apply to Australia's cruise industry, which has been shuttered for almost two years.
Joel Katz, managing director, Australasia, with Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), stated the safe resumption of cruise around the world should provide confidence to the Australian government that cruise can safely resume in domestic waters.
"The health protocols introduced overseas are working and we need an opportunity to introduce them in Australia so we can plan a careful and responsible recovery."
Regarding the continued lack of support for Australia's cruise industry from government officials, Katz did not mince words.
"Australia is now one of the only major cruise markets in the world with no clear plan for cruising's revival," said Katz. "Australians love to cruise, but we now face the ridiculous possibility that we will be able to travel overseas to take a cruise but won't be able to sail in our own waters."
In June, Clia collected more than 40,000 signatures in favor of restarting cruise in Australia as part of a campaign to pressure parliament to restart cruise.
Numerous cruise lines have already scrapped their entire 2021-2022 Australia and New Zealand cruise programmes, while domestic big-ship operators like P&O Cruises Australia have already paused operations into mid-January 2022 and have cancelled all summer holiday voyages at Christmas and New Year's.
In a rare piece of good news for the beleaguered industry, Celebrity Cruises conformed it would send Celebrity Edge Down Under for the winter 2023/2024 season.
Australia's human biosecurity emergency period, in effect from March 18, 2020, has been extended into December 2021.