MINISTER for health Greg Hunt has said the federal government would work with states and territories to restart the cruise ship industry in Australia.

International cruise ships have been barred from entering Australian waters under pandemic emergency measures. These measures have been in place since 18 March 2020 and were last week extended to 17 April.

In a press release, Mr Hunt suggested cruise ships could return to Australia before the measures expire.

“There was an agreement at National Cabinet that the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland agreed to work with the industry to implement new protocols to enable the resumption of cruising over coming months,” he said.

“The Commonwealth can remove the restrictions on cruising as soon as it is advised that it is safe to do so and the Minister will regularly review this advice.”

The Australian cruise industry has welcomed government commitments to engage with industry for a careful resumption of operations and has called for concrete plans to be finalised as soon as possible.

Cruise Lines International Association managing director Australasia Joel Katz said it was hoped the extension of the cruise ban to April 17 would be the last before international cruise ships can return to Australia.

Mr Katz also welcomed the National Cabinet announcement that eastern states and the federal government will jointly develop plans for cruising’s revival, saying close cooperation with cruise lines would be essential to achieving a careful and successful resumption.

“Though the cruise ban has been extended, we can now see hope for thousands of Australians whose livelihoods depend on cruise tourism,” Mr Katz said.

“Australia is still the only major cruise market in the world without confirmed plans for cruising’s resumption, so it’s important that governments work in partnership with the cruise industry to achieve a swift solution.”

Mr Katz said more than seven million people had sailed successfully in dozens of other countries where cruising had already resumed, with stringent new health protocols in place.

“Cruising has changed enormously in response to the pandemic and the work done with medical experts around the world has resulted in health protocols that have been successful in mitigating the risks of Covid-19,” Mr Katz said.

“Most cruise lines have cancelled sailings through to the end of May and it will take several months to prepare ships for their return, so we need governments to sign off on industry protocols as soon as possible so we can begin a careful and responsible revival of cruise tourism in Australia.”