False Dawn: Our resident cruise ship may never make it back to Queensland

The Brisbane-based Pacific Dawn was expected to open a new cruise ship terminal to passengers but may never make it back.

Jul 17, 2020, updated Jul 17, 2020
The cruise ship The Pacific Dawn may not return to its home port of Brisbane. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

The cruise ship The Pacific Dawn may not return to its home port of Brisbane. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

The Queensland Government has banned foreign-flagged cruise ships from entering state waters indefinitely, with changes to public health orders required to change the situation. Federal laws also enforce the ban until mid-September at least.

In response, P&O Cruises has placed a “rolling pause” on operations until September 17. Its Pacific Dawn ship is normally based at the Portside terminal in Brisbane and was due to be the first to take passengers at the larger International Cruise Ship Terminal on October 3.

However, the Pacific Dawn has been in a holding pattern with hundreds of other ships, initially in Manila Bay and now east of Singapore, for months. Operators have had to negotiate to change crews and restock, with many ports closing due to concerns over COVID-19. Another cruise ship captain, Tony Ruggero on the Sea Princess, reported more than 300 ships within a range of 20 nautical miles from his own.

The window for the Dawn Princess to return to Australia is also closing: it is due to be transferred to new owners in early 2021 and become the London-based CMV Amy Johnson.

P&O Cruises has promised its next, and largest, member of the Australian fleet will be based in Brisbane – the Pacific Encounter, now sailing as Star Princess and also in a holding pattern off the Americas – along with another of its ships.

The Pacific Dawn has the capacity to carry 2020 passengers whereas the Star Princess can carry 2600 and will find it easier to dock at the new Luggage Point terminal than upstream at the existing Portside facility.

“P&O Cruises has a long and proud connection with Brisbane which we are looking forward to continuing when cruise operations can resume,” a spokesperson said.

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“P&O’s first-ever cruise from Australia called at Brisbane in December 1932 with the arrival of Strathaird. Queensland has continued as a heartland market for P&O with a ship based year-round in Brisbane since 2004 including Pacific Dawn’s home porting from 2009 enabling many Queenslanders to discover the joys of cruising from their doorstep.

“When cruise operations ultimately resume, P&O Cruises has plans to base two ships in Brisbane reflecting the strength of the Queensland cruise market and its future potential once the COVID-19 crisis has passed and Australians again feel confident to cruise.”

The $277 million terminal is due to have a visit from the Sydney-based and recently refurbished Pacific Explorer on October 18, followed by the Voyager of the Seas – linked to the COVID-19 death of a Toowoomba man – on October 20. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk inspected work on the terminal in March and said it was an investment in current and future jobs.

The now-infamous Ruby Princess, linked to more than 20 deaths, has returned to north American cruise routes, only a year after coming to Australia.

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