What was shaping up to be a boom cruise season in the Kimberley region in north-western Australia is now in jeopardy after a decision by the Northern Territory government to restrict the entry of cruise ships into capital city Darwin — a turnaround port for Kimberley cruises.
The Northern Territory chief health minister last month banned cruise ships carrying more than 100 passengers and crew from entering territorial waters.
The restriction has frustrated cruise lines Silversea, Ponant and Australian-flagged Coral Expeditions, who were among those putting extra capacity into the Kimberley region in 2021 and 2022.
The Northern Territory government is concerned about the number of lines planning to sail in the Kimberley, and the impact this could have on the territory’s health services in the event of a medical emergency.
The no-sail order adds to the confusion for cruise lines who are waiting for the Australian government to lift a ban on foreign flagged passenger vessels sailing in Australian waters.
In March, the ban was extended by three months until June 2021. No decision has been made whether sailings will be allowed beyond that time.
Craig Bowen, managing director of cruise wholesaler Cruise Traveller said the Northern Territory decision is “obviously very disappointing”. He said the relevant small ship cruise lines are working hard to resolve the issue.
Adam Radwanski, Silversea’s senior vice president and managing director for Asia Pacific said, "We understand that the NT government is making health-first decisions as cruising continues to evolve in this changing environment.
“The Australian market is showing very strong demand for domestic and close-to-home holidays, especially the Kimberley.
“Silversea supports the local economy and communities of the Kimberley by using local transport companies, tour operators and destination attractions, as well as procuring local food and wine as part of our all-inclusive offering.
“This kind of support is especially important as these communities look to preserve jobs and boost their economies. Operating in the Kimberley this winter will be critical to the recovery of the local communities and its tourism economy.”
Silversea is scheduled to start the Kimberley season on 28 May.
“We are optimistic that the local government will reach an outcome that balances the needs of local communities," Radwanski added.
Coral Expeditions is running its April and May Kimberley cruises from the West Australian port of Broome, which requires passengers due to embark in Darwin to be flown to Broome.
French cruise line Ponant has put a record number of Kimberley departures in the market for 2021 and 2022 but is also waiting for territory and federal government decisions on where and when they will be able to sail.