After more than two years since the last cruise ship arrived, P&O Australia welcomed its flagship cruise ship, Pacific Explorer, to the Sydney Harbor.
As she arrived at 09:30 on Monday morning, April 18, sporting a huge ‘We’re Back’ flag on the front of the ship, she received a traditional water cannon salute from three tug boats. The arrival coincided with the lifting of the Australian government’s ban on cruising, which expired on April 17.
First Cruise Ship in Two Years Sails Into Sydney Harbor
There would have been no more fitting scenario than Pacific Explorer to sail into Sydney Harbor as the first cruise ship in more than two years. As she entered Sydney Harbour at 9.30 am, she docked at the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay a little later.
During the ship’s arrival, she received the traditional maritime water cannon salute. At the same time, chartered boats carrying cruise suppliers, loyal guests, travel agents, and cruise line staff welcomed her and marked the return of cruising to Australia.
President of Carnival Australia and P&O Cruises Marguerite Fitzgerald: “There could be no better way to welcome Pacific Explorer home than to have the harbour’s tugs out in force to greet her. It doesn’t get more Sydney than that.”
Onboard Pacific Explorer are 250 crew members. The first guests are not expected to board the ship until 31 May 2022.
Until that time, P&O Australia will need to bring the vessel back to operational status, including onboarding another 600 crew members, completing the necessary training on new protocols, and bringing provisions onboard.
Marguerite Fitzgerald continued: “It was my singular mission to make sure that we were the first cruise line back. We are the Australian cruise line, we’re also the only cruise line that has Australian operations and so that means that it’s important for us to be the first back, because we are able to work through the various protocols locally to make sure the ships are ready to come back in six weeks when we take our first guests on board.”
Rebuilding a $5 Billion Industry
The arrival of Pacific Explorer also marks a point where a $5 billion industry starts to rebuild again. More ships are preparing to return to Northern Australia in time for the Kimberley cruise season, such as Ponant’s Le Laperouse and APT’s Caledonian Sky.
The country is now slowly rebuilding an economy worth $5 billion in 2019, which was decimated during the ban on international cruise vessels entering Australia that began in March 2020.
P&O spokesman David Jones expects the industry to bounce back quickly now the ban has been lifted. “This is the start of the rebuilding for us and our other cruise lines and I’m sure our competitor cruise lines have their plans now for ships to come back to the Australian market. We are now looking at the possibility, a real strong one, that the 2022-23 summer cruise season will be close to normal.”
P&O Australia’s return to service will be rolled out steadily over the coming months. On May 31, Pacific Explorer will set sail from Sydney on a 4-night cruise to Brisbane and back to Sydney.
P&O Cruises Australia President Marguerite Fitzgerald: “Pacific Explorer’s arrival has replaced uncertainty with optimism and marks the rebound of cruising, on the way to re-establishing Australia as the world’s most successful cruise market, previously contributing more than $5 billion annually to the national, state and regional economies, and supporting 18,000 jobs.”
On August 20, Pacific Encounter will set sail on a 7-night cruise to Cairns and Willis Island from Brisbane. On October 22, Pacific Adventure will sail on a 3-night Comedy cruise that will sail roundtrip from Sydney without port calls.
Those cruise ships that are restarting will need to comply with a long list of health and safety protocols designed to protect those onboard and those in the local communities that cruise ships visit.
Joel Katz, Managing Director of Clia Australia, said the following: “While no setting is immune from Covid-19, the cruise industry’s new protocols provide among the highest possible levels of prevention, detection, and mitigation. With these measures in place, Australia now has an opportunity to begin a responsible recovery in an industry that has long been a vital part of our tourism economy.”
The protocols include mandatory vaccinations for all guests over 12 years old, providing a negative test result before boarding, protocols for shore excursions, social distancing onboard, and enhanced cleaning requirements that ship operators will need to comply with.