NT cruise ban set to push ships to Western Australia

Spectacular landscape with the Katherine River in Northern Territory, Australia.

Cruise ships are now only able to operate out of Darwin if they have no more than 100 people on board, including crew, due to changes to a Northern Territory COVID-19 direction.

The NT’s Chief Health Officer, Hugh Heggie, brought new measures targeting cruise ships into force on 26 March, with territory waters only allowed to hold a maximum of two cruise vessels at a time.

Under the new rules, cruise vessels cannot enter territory waters with more than 100 people on board, including crew – a cap that Top End tourism operators have described as unworkable and unviable.

In addition, the direction stipulates that cruise vessels must ensure they do not enter Port Darwin unless at least 14 days have elapsed since last berthing in an Australian port that is within an area that, at the time the vessel enters Port Darwin, is a COVID-19 hotspot.

At least 14 days must also elapse if the vessel arrives from a port outside Australia. Cruise ships cannot go to any other ports across the NT unless they have first berthed in Port Darwin.

Tourism Top End general manager Glen Hingley told NT News the changes would not save the industry in Darwin, which he said is already at risk of losing business to more ports in WA.

He added that he couldn’t understand how the government arrived at the 100-person cap.

“It has been made clear that this is not a viable number of people for these expedition ships to come to Darwin … they simply cannot afford to come,” Hingley told NT News.

Coral Expeditions group general manager Mark Fifield told NT News the expedition cruise company would “relocate to operate out of WA” due to the ban and cap on passengers.

“The decision means the 5,000 tourists that were coming to Darwin will not be coming, they will be going to Broome instead,” Fifield said.

“We are very disappointed. We have been operating expedition cruise ships out of Darwin for around 25 years and we have invested millions.”

Fifield also claimed that, as Coral Expeditions boats are staffed with Australian based crew and strict testing regulations apply to their Australian passengers, there is “essentially” no risk of people contracting COVID-19 on board its ships.

“It is hard to understand what the risk difference is between the Ghan arriving with 500 passengers, a resort with 300 people in it, or a plane arriving with 300 passengers into Darwin is.”

According to the government, the directions exist to ensure the NT has the capacity to manage a potential COVID-19 related emergency.

Featured image source: iStock/Totajla

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