Sydney’s cruise infrastructure dilemma has come to a head, with Royal Caribbean scaling back the number of ships coming to Australia during the 2018/19 season due to “port congestion”.

Unable to secure the slots in Sydney needed to “offer optimal cruise itineraries”, Royal Caribbean International will only send three ships to Australia for the 2018/19 season.

During 2016/17 the cruise line based five ships in Australia, but the cruise line was only able to secure enough berths for two ships in Sydney during the peak summer months of January and February 2018.

Voyager of the Seas will instead operate year-round from Asia, and Radiance of the Seas will undertake four turnarounds during the peak summer months outside of Sydney, in Melbourne and Auckland,” the cruise line said in a statement.

“For a number of years now, we have warned that an acute lack of cruise infrastructure in Sydney will constrain the growth of the industry and limit the flow-on effects to the NSW economy. That time has come.”

Royal Caribbean also highlighted the cost environment in NSW is “amongst the least competitive in the world for cruise home-porting,” noting it hopes to see a fourth ship return to Australia for the 2019/20 season.

In the meantime Carnival Australia’s executive chairman Ann Sherry has warned Sydney’s cruise infrastructure challenges are “emerging as others’ opportunities”.

“We are finding ourselves increasingly basing ships in other cities such as Melbourne and Brisbane,” Sherry said, declaring “we are nearing crunch point where we need to find a way to unblock the stalemate in Sydney Harbour and find a way of sharing the Garden Island facility between Navy and cruising for the benefit of Sydney”.

Weighing in on the issue, the Tourism & Transport Forum called on the NSW and Federal Governments to urgently secure Sydney’s cruise infrastructure or risk losing out.

TTF chief executive Margy Osmond said: “if Sydney is not available as a destination for large cruise liners, the whole country will miss out.

“We are now on the verge of a cruise crisis.”

A spokesperson for the NSW Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight, Melinda Pavey, said: “Sydney Harbour has been loved to death with the exponential growth in the cruise industry around the world”.

The spokesperson said the government was “continuing to work with industry to look at solutions for expanding short, medium and longer term capacity”.

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