(2:15 a.m. AEST) -- Australia's sweeping ban on most cruise activities within its territorial waters could be coming to an end in December, according to comments made by senior government officials.
Australian Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has stated the government will not elect to renew the long-standing Human Biosecurity Emergency act past its December 17, 2021 end date.
The legislation has been in place since March 18, 2020 and has resulted in the cessation of nearly all cruise activity within Australian waters for over 20 months. With the exception of local Australian operators like Coral Expeditions, the vast majority of cruise lines operating within the country's borders have cancelled cruises well into 2022.
A few lines have scrapped their entire 2021-2022 seasons in Australia altogether.
Hunt stated he would "like to see cruising back on before Christmas", an aspiration that seems disconnected from reality. P&O Cruises Australia -- one of the largest year-round cruise operators in Australia -- has already cancelled voyages into March and April of 2022. Some departures have been postponed further still. The company has already scrapped sailings from Cairns, for example, into late June 2022.
Should the cruise industry get the green light to resume voyages in Australian waters as of December 17, it will likely be well into 2022 before lines are ready to set sail. Ships have to be provisioned and crewed for re-entry into service, and North American-based lines have already redeployed vessels expected to sail Australian waters to other locales.
Still, the news is positive for Aussies looking to set sail. After nearly two years, cruises could be finally set for a long-term return to some of the country's most iconic harbours, ending a dark period for domestic and international tourism in the country.