Coral Expeditions has shelved port calls at Darwin for the immediate future from its Australian program in response to new legislation on expedition cruising in the Northern Territory that was revealed late last week.
According to ‘The Principles of Expedition Cruising in the Northern Territory’, a maximum capacity of 100 people – for crew and guests combined – has been introduced on vessels operating from the NT capital’s port.
The ruling has repercussions for Coral Adventurer and the brand-new Coral Geographer, both of which have a capacity of 99 passengers, and up to 48 crew, and are scheduled to operate some sailings from Darwin.
However, the conditions do not impact Coral Expeditions’ Coral Discoverer, which has a capacity of 72 passengers and operates with 23 crew, enabling the ship to fall within the guidelines of the new ruling. Coral Discoverer will continue to operate across the Kimberley and Cape York as scheduled.
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Jeff Gillies, Commercial Director for Coral Expeditions, told LATTE that the capacity limits on Coral Adventurer and Coral Geographer make it unviable to operate their planned program in Northern Territory waters, or from the Port of Darwin, for at least the next few months.
Gillies said that beyond May, Coral Expeditions is hopeful that the broader ban on cruising in Australian waters for ships of all sizes will have been resolved, enabling it to potentially revert back to Darwin calls later in the Kimberley season.
“There may be some border adjustments and we continue to talk with the NT Health office team,” Gillies explained. “If we need to continue we can extend.”
Darwin is primarily used by Coral Expeditions as a hub for refuelling and taking on fresh provisions. The city’s international airport is also a key gateway for cruise guests from around the country.
For Coral Adventurer and Coral Geographer, their itineraries will now revert to a roundtrip departure from Broome, instead of an alternating one-way sailing between Darwin and Broome. Gillies noted that the change avoids the 20+ hour journey time to Western Australian waters and provides more time in the Kimberley itself.
All published departure dates will remain the same and all highlights will be included.
“From the guests’ perspective – trip quality and the cruise experience – everything will remain the same,” Gillies told LATTE.
For guests with flights booked either into or out of Darwin for their voyage that has been affected by the embarkation/disembarkation change to Broome, Coral Expeditions has chartered a series of aircraft between the two gateways, offering fares priced at $300 per guest.
“This decision will ensure travellers a secure travel connection at a fixed and reliable fare so they can continue their planned itineraries with minimal disruption,” Coral Expeditions said in a trade update.
“In the light of the ongoing uncertainties of the pandemic, we remain committed to supporting all guests to complete their travel plans for 2021,” the memo added.
For agents with clients booked beyond June, Coral Expeditions’ recommends not making any changes at this time, “and our team will be in contact with you at the appropriate time to work through changes that may be required”.
Gillies concluded, saying Coral Expeditions has witnessed “very strong demand” for its Kimberley program in 2021. A new availability tool on its website that was introduced a few months ago provides a great tool for agents to see updated inventory on what’s currently available.
The “Kimberley Stateroom Tracker” is updated every other day and can be accessed here.
That includes departures on a new 10-night Definitive Kimberley Expedition in 2021 and 2022, which includes explorations of Rowley Shoals and Ashmore Reef.
Meanwhile, Coral Discoverer has embarked on its maiden voyage from Cairns to Broome today.
All images courtesy of Coral Expeditions