UK cruise lines will be able to restart domestic sailings on May 17, maritime minister Robert Courts has told a group of MPs.
The disclosure came as he appeared at a virtual meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Maritime and Ports Group (APPMPG).
The group tweeted: **NEWS** Maritime Minister @robertcourts announces the reopening of the domestic #cruise market in England on 17 May at tonight’s @APPMPG meeting.”
It then followed up by tweeting: “From repatriation procedures and risk mitigations to CV-19 protocols and the domestic vaccination programme, a great @APPMPG session w/ @robertcourts who delivered some much appreciated news. A pathway to the domestic cruise market re-opening on 17 May.”
A Department of Transport spokesperson subsequently told The Independent that the return of domestic cruises would be aligned to the reopening of domestic tourism and indoor hospitality, and confirmed the earliest date for that step was May 17.
The Independent said Courts told MPs that the government is working with the home nations to ensure the return of UK-wide domestic cruising, and believed the move will help the cruise industry restore confidence and showcase protocols designed to protect passengers and crew.
The Foreign Office continues to warn against international cruise travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, domestic cruises were outlined as the first step in the sector’s reopening by the Global Travel Taskforce last autumn.
The DfT spokesperson said: “We are committed to restarting cruise travel when it is safe to do so, and we are working closely with the sector to prepare for a safe and successful restart.
“The restart of domestic cruises in England will be aligned with the wider resumption of the domestic tourism and indoor hospitality sectors.
“As set out in the prime minister’s roadmap, the earliest possible date for this step is 17 May.”
Clia UK and Ireland director Andy Harmer said: “We strongly welcome the announcement that cruise will be included alongside the restart of other domestic tourism in the UK.
“The industry has been working with the government over the last year on health protocols which put the safety of our passengers and crew first. Many of these protocols have already been tested successfully where cruise has been able to operate elsewhere in Europe.
“The industry has long planned a phased restart for cruise, with domestic cruises representing the first stage of this plan.
“We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the government, including through the Global Travel Taskforce, in order to ensure the safe restart of international cruise in time for the summer season.”
P&O Cruises last week revealed plans to offer a series of short break and week-long UK sailings out of Southampton this summer.
The ‘ultimate escape’ programme, due to go on sale later this month, has been arranged “following recent government announcements”, the line said.
A number of other lines have also bolstered their domestic schedules, with Royal Caribbean saying it hoped the move would be a precursor to the swift return of international sailings.
P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow said: “We are delighted that the government has acknowledged that UK domestic cruise holidays can begin from May 17.
“Whilst it will take some weeks for us to restart our operations, we are very much lookng forward to welcoming guests on board this summer for our series of ‘Ultimate Escape’ staycations – UK coastal cruises. Details of these, with ships, dates and itineraries, will be announced later this month.”