But now tickets are on sale for cruises sailing as early as September, raising urgent questions about the future of the industry.
Australia’s international ban on cruise ships is now set to end on September 17, after being extended by three months last week.
One of the first ships to arrive in Australian ports is Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas, which is scheduled to leave Hawaii on September 27, bound for Sydney. In April, the ship was linked to a large Australian group Covid-19 and at least two dead, and was one of a dozen ships that anchored off the coast of Australia in a confrontation with the authorities after the order to leave.
After the recent nightmare of coronavirus clusters on board ships with multinational crews, home ports on the other side of the world and owners often domiciled in tax havens, experts and industry players have urged the government to carefully consider a radical change before reintroducing the cruise to Australian waters.
“It doesn’t have to be like that”
Some of the ships returned by Australia are among the 19 currently floating in Manila Bay in the Philippines. Helicopter images show them dotting the horizon, goliaths asleep during the pandemic, potentially thousands of workers still trapped in their bowels.
They are currently dormant, but unions and seafarers’ advocacy groups believe this is an opportunity for Australia to reconsider its role in feeding these giants.
“I think this is the only opportunity in my life to bring about change and make sure these people meet the standards we expect,” said Dean Summers, Australian coordinator for the International Transport Workers Federation.
“If we let them go back to normal business, we miss our chance. “
“Australia should pave the way for an Australian cruise ship industry. It doesn’t have to be like that, we don’t have to employ the most vulnerable in very bad conditions. “
Summers says the pandemic has “exposed the inside” of the cruise industry, which, unlike air transportation, is largely deregulated and decentralized.
“Many of these ships are still trying to get these people down. There has been no real breakthrough, everyone is still suffering terribly on these ships. Many were without pay and far from their families during the most terrible time of their lives. “
He says he has lost contact with the Ruby Princess crew since the ship’s arrival in the Philippines and is concerned about their well-being.
In May, a Ukrainian worker died after apparently jumping off the Regal Princess outside Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
On the Navigator of the Seas off Miami, 15 Romanian crew members went on hunger strike to protest their inability to disembark. Police had to be called to other boats around the world after the crews protested.
The vast majority of cruise ships are registered in countries such as Panama, Bermuda and Liberia, who have limited supervision and more flexible requirements regarding working conditions and remuneration.
Low labor costs help keep cruise prices low.
While cruise ships have a comfortable financial cushion – Carnival posted a profit of $ 4.8 billion for 2018, according to a report from the University of Sydney – the current lack of liquidity forces companies to restart their activities.
Justin Wastnage, a tourism industry expert from the University of Sydney, said that the industry will need to cut ticket prices to restart business.
“The forward reservations, which the industry relies on, have evaporated and they offer 125% credit on canceled cruises, so there is a lot of money leaving the industry,” he said.
“In the future, they will have to offer extremely low prices to keep people coming back.”
Australia is one of the largest markets for cruise lines, and the Australian Maritime Union urges the government to take advantage of this to change the status quo.
“The Australian government has not only a unique opportunity but a moral obligation to learn from the Covid-19 pandemic and to radically reform the way the cruise ship industry is regulated before allowing operations to restart in the Australian waters, “said union secretary Paddy. Crumlin says.
“The Morrison government should use its strong negotiating position with multinational cruise lines that desperately want to restart operations to negotiate the registration of these ships in Australia, crewed by Australian workers and governed by Australian laws. “
“The failed model of the past, where multinational cruise lines have won billions of Australian passengers on cruise ships registered in notorious tax havens and equipped with exploited migrant workers, cannot be allowed to continue,” said Crumlin .
“This failed self-regulating approach led to the Ruby Princess debacle, resulting in dozens of deaths, as well as the situation where dozens of cruise ships had to languish in Australian waters with no home base to go to. , inadequate medical assistance. , and no way to repatriate crew members. “
“All efforts to date could be canceled”
Given Australia’s relative success in containing the spread of the coronavirus and the contrasting disaster unfolding in the United States, there is significant doubt that thousands of passengers would be allowed to dock even in September, but Royal Caribbean accepts reservations and payments for rooms on the Ovation of the Seas.
Carnival Cruise Line also sells a number of trips across Australia and the Pacific Islands. Carnival Australia and P&O Cruises President Sture Myrmell said it was “important not to get ahead of ourselves when it comes to resuming cruising in this region”, but he didn’t There is no obvious warning on the Carnival website that these trips may not take place.
“It is generally well known that the cruise is currently undergoing a continuous break in operations,” said a spokesperson for Carnival.
” We are [accepting bookings] in a way that gives people maximum flexibility with minimal initial financial outlay combined with conducive cancellation and refund arrangements. “
Oceanic Cruises uses room upgrades, onboard credits and free alcohol and shore excursions to entice people to book cruises in October. His new advertising campaign inspires people to “remember the future.”
Professor Marylouise McLaws, a specialist in infectious diseases at the University of NSW, says that international cruises should not be accepted in Australia until there is a vaccine for Covid-19.
“All efforts to date could be canceled fairly quickly by allowing foreign visitors on board cruise ships to leave the ship,” she said.
“There are many countries in the northern hemisphere that just don’t work as good global citizens to try to contain this nasty virus.”
But she said there could be a way to allow cruises that only travel to Australia or even New Zealand if the number of cases approaches zero.
“Passengers should be tested when they enter the ship, and then when they arrive in another port, they return all the negative results. If someone was positive, no one would be allowed to go out because it is an amplifying environment. There are false negatives in the tests but it’s better than nothing, “she said.
“Our goal is to raise our standards to entirely new levels”
Myrmell says that Carnival is encouraged by talking about a trans-Tasmanian bubble, but “fully recognizes that resuming cruising is not easy.”
Most major cruise lines have announced new safety procedures for reopening, including better patient screening and additional hand sanitation stations.
“We will not begin operations until we are fully prepared to do so, with all the hygiene and health protocols in place,” said Royal Caribbean Cruises managing director Richard Fain.
“Our goal is to raise our standards to entirely new levels. We have the time, we have the determination and we have the expertise. “
Myrmell says Carnival and its affiliates “will always meet the conditions necessary for the cruise to return as a safe vacation option”.
Cruise Lines International Association’s Australian branch chief executive Joel Katz said it was incorrect to say that the industry was unregulated.
“All ships must operate at or above compliance with the many layers of strict international, national and local laws … CLIA cruise lines support and comply with the Maritime Labor Convention of the International Labor Organization, which sets international standards for hours of work and rest. , health and safety and the living conditions of seafarers. “
But if national cruises reopen, the International Transport Workers Association wants consumers to have an Australian alternative.
Summers says, “We all buy clothes from sweatshops and slaves around the world. I don’t think people will say, from a moral point of view, I’m not taking my family on a cruise. I just don’t think it will happen. But let’s look at the ways to create an alternative so they have a choice.
“I would say, well from a moral point of view, there is an Australian flag ship here and there is a cheap ship of convenience flag, I will opt for the Australian ship and support the Australian industry. I think this is the way to go. “