WA summit to discuss boom in Kimberley cruises

The Western Australian Government is working to find long-term solutions to best showcase the unspoilt Kimberley Coast as interest in travel to the region booms.

WA Deputy Prime Minister and Tourism Minister Roger Cook said work is being done to figure out how to protect the environment now – and in the future.

A summit of 22 cruise line and industry officials will discuss the issue next month when it is raised by local cruise line Coral Expeditions, which has been cruising in the Kimberley for years.

Mr Cook’s comments follow cruise passengers reported last week that the Kimberley is at risk of becoming overcrowded as more cruise lines announce plans to sail to the region.

The remote Kimberley region of northwestern Western Australia has two World Heritage sites and has been described as a “powder keg waiting to blow up” by a company that has been operating in the region for 28 years.

“Kimberley is a pristine environment, often described as one of the last true wilderness areas in the world,” said Mr Cook.

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“It’s fantastic to see the growing popularity of Kimberley cruises and the growing interest of luxury small expedition ships in bringing new guests and their returning passengers to Western Australia.

“Cruises have a significant positive economic impact on Broome and provide a boost to the wider Kimberley coastal region. With growing demand for expedition cruises in the Kimberley, work is already underway to identify and implement long-term solutions to best showcase the Kimberley coastal experience while protecting the pristine marine environment now and into the future.

“In addition to the smaller expedition ships that began cruising in early 2022, Western Australia looks forward to welcoming back larger cruise ships from October, with the first large ship arriving in Fremantle on 28 October.

“Tourism WA will also welcome 22 cruise line and cruise industry representatives to the state for the sixth Western Australian Cruise Exchange from 5th to 8th October.

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“The delegates will take part in a range of activities including meetings with tourism providers in WA, and visits to the South West and Broome.”

There is no doubt that the Kimberley’s overcrowding issue is hotly debated following comments from incumbent operators Coral Expeditions and Ponnat, just two of eight major operators currently selling cruises to the region.

But according to Jeff Gillies, commercial director of Coral Expeditions, who will address the issue at the summit, the problem is much broader than just the arrival of more larger ships.

“There is another layer to the challenges of overcrowding in The Kimberley,” said Mr. Gillies.

The coral discoverer in the Kimberley
The coral discoverer in the Kimberley

“Two years ago, the federal government overnight pushed through legislation making superyachts free to coast for passengers under the age of 12, which was not previously in effect.

“Australian flag operators protested less on competitive grounds than on the grounds that these yachts and crews are unable to operate in difficult remote regions.”

Mr Gillies said the 11-metre tides that are occurring in parts of The Kimberley mean inexperienced seafarers can be stranded in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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The Kimberley Coast is home to more than 30 percent of Australia’s islands and life is defined by the southern hemisphere’s largest tides. For comparison: the difference between low and high tide of 11 meters is about the height of a two-story house.

“This year alone in the Kimberley we have seen numerous superyachts anchored off major scenic features and on two occasions we had to rescue them because they were unable to control ships in the tide,” said Mr Gillies.

“Add another 15 white superyachts to the mix and the Kimberley wilderness landscape is further degraded.”

Cruise Broome chairman Shayne Murray agreed that training or a system similar to harbor pilots would be a good way to allay safety concerns. He also said he hoped a voluntary register of sailing plans could be established.

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