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When the first international cruise ship sets sail from Australia next month, it’ll be the first time in more than two years the mammoth vessels have been allowed to depart from the nation’s waters due to COVID-19.

The return of cruise ships will bring a much-needed cash injection back into the $5 billion industry including supporting 18,000 Aussie jobs.

Plus they’ll allow cruise addicts to indulge in the holidays they love – a total of 1.35 million Aussies took a cruise in 2018.
P&O Australia's Pacific Explorer in Sydney.
P&O Australia’s Pacific Explorer in Sydney. (SMH)
But getting that first ship – P&O Australia’s Pacific Explorer – ready, and the ones that follow, is a mammoth feat involving thousands of people from Australia and around the globe.

Rehiring staff

He also needs to get his tools which have lay idle for two years, checked over and working again.

His firm helps maintain the vessels when they come into port.

The business lost 90 per cent of its $7 million turnover in the shut-down.

“JobKeeper couldn’t keep our technical staff on,” he said.

Graeme Blackman from Sydney ship chandler, Inter-Marine is rehiring some of the ten people they lay off. (Supplied)

“It’ll be a slow, progressive start but we’re so glad we could last this long.”

Steven Biviano, from Sydney Select Fresh Providores, is responsible for restocking the ships with the indulgent food they’re famous for.

He was delivering up to 40 semi-trailers a week of fruit and veg to cruise ships before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived.

His team of 30 was cut to three and he lost millions of dollars – with the ban also impacting produce growers. But they’re now gearing up to return to work.

“(I’ll be) getting a team re-established, speaking to growers, agents,” he said.

And Jeremy Goodman, admits he has “a very long shopping list”.

As Supply Chain Director for P&O Cruises Australia he oversees buying all that’s needed and gets it to the ship.

Jeremy Goodman, admits he has "a very long shopping list."As Supply Chain Director for P&O Cruises Australia he oversees buying all that's needed and getting it to the ship.
Jeremy Goodman, admits he has “a very long shopping list.”As Supply Chain Director for P&O Cruises Australia he oversees buying all that’s needed and getting it to the ship. (Supplied)

For the first cruise alone that includes 4,500 dozen eggs, 15 tonnes of fresh vegetables and 6.5 tonnes of poultry.

“When Pacific Explorer resumes cruising on May 31, more than 300 pallets of products of various kinds will be delivered,” he said.

“Each pallet weighs around 500k kilograms so that is around 50 tonnes of fresh produce.”

He said “emotions will be high” when the vessel honks its horn to leave Sydney Harbour.

Cooking up new dishes

Meanwhile it’ll be up to P&O Cruises Australia Corporate Executive Chef Uwe Stiefel to create tasty dishes with all that food.

And while there have been no passengers for the past couple of years, he’s been busy taking care of crew who remained on the ships, plus planning for the restart.

That includes testing out new recipes and dishes in his Sydney home kitchen.

Fresh produce is loaded on to the cruise ship Pacific Explorer at Circular Quay in 2019.
Fresh produce is loaded on to the cruise ship Pacific Explorer at Circular Quay in 2019. (SMH)

He said he’s interested to see how food demands have changed on board, with people so used to lockdown takeaways.

Limbering up to entertain

Entertainment, from theatre shows to pool aerobics, is always a highlight for cruisers.

P&O Cruises Australia’s Head of Entertainment Brett Annable and Corporate Entertainment Director, Zoltina-J Medwik Daley will keep guests happy again when ships return.

P&O Cruises Australia's Head of Entertainment Brett Annable
P&O Cruises Australia’s Head of Entertainment Brett Annable (Supplied)

Ms Medwik Daley said she was devastated as her ship left Sydney back in 2020, as the pandemic hit and ships were banned.

“The day we were told to leave, the crew were crying, I was crying and even Sydney was crying as it was a gloomy rainy day,” he said.

This time, she said she’ll cry happy tears – once she’s finished her busy role.

“Whilst everything on board has been kept warm and running, without guests, the onboard entertainment venues have been ‘asleep’ for two years so we are getting them ready,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Annable is busy recruiting entertainers.

“We are also about to welcome our first production show cast into rehearsals for their debut at the end of May and we are putting the finishing touches to our brand-new production show, ‘Musicology’, which is launching later this year on Pacific Encounter and Pacific Adventure,” he said.

 Corporate Entertainment Director, Zoltina- J Medwik
Corporate Entertainment Director, Zoltina- J Medwik (Supplied)

Marguerite Fitzgerald, President of Carnival Cruise Line Australia and P&O Cruises Australia, said the suppliers’ job-filling plans confirmed the importance of the cruising ecosystem in supporting many businesses and jobs in Australia.

“We have seen and felt the pain of our suppliers as they have negotiated two difficult years with the suspension of cruising,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“Their determination to emerge on the other side was an inspiration to us all and, even at the hardest of times, they were planning for the future.”

And while cruise line Royal Caribbean isn’t due to return to Australia until October, staff and crew are also gearing up.

The firm will bring ships, which have already resumed cruising across the globe to Aussie waters, via special Trans-Pacific sailings.

Sheldon Thompson, International Port Operations Manager, Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific at the company said while there’s always a team on board a ship, even when there are no passengers.

But getting the thousands of crew back on board ready for passengers is a feat.

“The biggest challenge in getting a ship ready for sailing after a lay-up period will be getting the crew on safely and preparing the ship, bearing in mind that there can be over 65 different nationalities on one ship,” he said.

“Depending on the size of the ship, it can take up to 60 to 90 days to bring a ship out of layup.”

Royal Caribbean's first Sydney cruise will sail from Sydney for New Zealand on October 21, followed by Brisbane on November 9.
Royal Caribbean’s first Sydney cruise will sail from Sydney for New Zealand on October 21, followed by Brisbane on November 9. (Supplied)

Cruising COVID-19 rules

No specific cruising rules have been released yet.

But it’s likely all guests and crew must be vaccinated, unless exempt, and must provide a negative COVID-19 test.

Social distancing, extra sanitation and monitoring such as temperature checks will also be rolled out, according to cruise firms.

Which cruise lines are sailing where

P&O Cruises Australia Pacific Explorer will be the first cruise ship to sail in Australian waters since March 2020, when it sets off from Sydney on May 31 to make the first call at the new Brisbane International Cruise Terminal on June 2. The ship will return to Sydney on April 18, ready for the first cruise.

Princess Cruises’ Coral Princess will begin her maiden Australian deployment in Brisbane, setting sail on June 16 with a three-night cruise.

Carnival Cruise Line will sail Carnival Splendor to Moreton Island, Queensland from Sydney on October 5.

Carnival Australia wants to know what the plan it to resume cruising in Australia.
Carnival Splendor is returning to Australia. (Supplied)

Celebrity Cruises will return to Australia from October 22, with a 12-night jaunt to New Zealand.

Royal Caribbean’s first Sydney cruise will sail from Sydney to New Zealand on October 21, followed by Brisbane on November 9.

Upmarket cruise line Seabourn will star calling at Sydney again in December.

Cunard’s lavish ships will return to Australian waters on November 7, sailing from Fremantle, WA, to Sydney.

Virgin Voyages, the new cruise line by tycoon Richard Branson, which boasts A-lister Jennifer Lopez as its ‘chief entertainment and lifestyle officer’, has also hinted it’s bringing its adults-only ships Down Under next year.

Holland America will also bring flagship vessel, Noordam back to Sydney in November.

Contact journalist Sarah Swain: [email protected]

Source: 9News

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