EXCLUSIVE COMMENT: Pandemic leaves cruise companies all at sea

OPINION PIECE BY: One Nation WA Leader Colin Ticknell. 

While the events of recent weeks might have many believing, even hoping, the corona virus will sink the cruise industry, that’s not likely.

It’s more likely that the sheer scale of the sector (according to the Cruise Lines International Association, the more than 30 million people who cruise each year have a $134 billion impact on the global economy), stellar growth in the Chinese market (some 80 per cent each year since 2012) and people’s short memories will keep it afloat.

That said, our State and Federal Governments, in the wake of the global pandemic, must set new rules of engagement for a resurgent cruise industry.

The debacle that saw giant passenger liners lingering off the Western Australian coast last week seeking to disembark unknown numbers of COVID-19 infected passengers has exposed more than just a total lack of crisis planning within the international cruise industry.

It has laid bare the lack of dominion Australia has over its own borders in the face of International Maritime Law.

The 1979 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue Convention obliges countries to “ensure that assistance [is] provided to any person in distress at sea … provide for their initial medical or other needs, and deliver them to a place of safety”.

Laws and conventions aside, the moral and humanitarian dilemma created this week for our Governments wasunacceptable. Yes, we do have a moral obligation to treat sick people who arrive in our ports – whether by invitation or not – but it is a dilemma our Governments should never have been presented with.

These ships were in our waters because successive State Governments have done and spent all they can to get them here.

The former Liberal National Government promised $950,000 to buy shoreline tensioners to encourage cruise ship to visit Geraldton, the current Government spent $15 million to dredge the Port of Broome to allow cruise ship visits and spent also $3.25 million sprucing up the Fremantle Passenger Terminal.

Just a month and a half ago, on January 13, Ports Minister Alannah MacTiernan threw out the red carpet and a ministerial media release welcoming “premium cruise liner Vasco da Gama to Fremantle for the first time”.

It was an entirely different welcome for the Vasco da Gama last weekend when Premier Mark McGowan was saying cruise ship issues had “been a nightmare to deal with over the last week or so”.

Tourism accounts for about 10 per cent of global domestic product and employment and the international scramble to secure a share of the cruising component of that booty has seen countries around the globe open their arms wide to the cruising industry while turning a blind eye to its many shortcomings.

Most cruise companies register their ships under the flags of the countries such as the Bahamas, Panama or Liberia to minimise their tax liability, to avoid having to comply with the stricter marine regulations, labour laws and environmental requirements imposed by their own countries.

The average passenger liner produces and disgorges into the ocean about half a million litres of sewage each week and large ships produce more particulate air pollution than 1 million cars.

Whatever a resurgent cruise industry looks like post pandemic, our governments’ engagement with that industry must look different to what it does now.

Our governments must have the final say on who comes across our borders and cruise companies must take full responsibility for the cost and logistics of keeping their customers safe in all scenarios – including a global pandemic.

The Hon Colin Tincknell

WA Leader One Nation

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