SUSPENDED due to COVID, the popular cruise option with Sea Swift may not return, the shipping company admits.
A cruise tour with Sea Swift typically went from Tuesday to Sunday and involved leaving the wharf at Cairns and travelling to Horn Island, Thursday Island and Seisia, before returning back to Cairns.
The award-winning tours on the Trinity Bay were suspended during the pandemic.
In an interview with Cape York Weekly, Sea Swift CEO Dwayne Freeman admitted that the cruise option was not locked in when the much-anticipated Newcastle Bay II joins the fleet next month.
“We are reviewing that position,” he said.
“We’ve just got to consider that in the cold light of the day in terms of: Is that a service Sea Swift can offer and offer an effective service for its customers?
“If we can tick the box that says we can give a customer experience that people are going to want to buy … and we can do that in conjunction with our operating business, then I can’t see any reason why we wouldn’t do it.
“But that decision hasn’t been made yet.
“The challenge has been put to my teams to see if they can come up with what the service might look like.”
Mr Freeman said there was no doubt that tickets would sell if Sea Swift provided the cruise option again.
In 2012, Sea Swift won the award for Major Tour and/Transport Operator of the Year at the Tourism Tropical North Queensland Awards.
“It’s a topical thing. I get a lot of people in Cairns talk to me about this service and if it’s coming back,” he said.
“There was a lot of interest in the past. The new vessel is configured for that service.”
REMARKABLY, Sea Swift has not been asked for its opinion on reducing freight costs for remote Far North residents.
Mr Freeman said the state government had not spoken to him or anyone from his company about ideas for the freight subsidy since it was first mooted in March this year.
Cape York and Torres Strait residents are frustrated with the inaction of the government after it pledged to spend more than $60 million over five years to reduce the cost of freight in the region.
Minister for Transport and Main Roads Mark Bailey said the Department had been working with local stakeholders to get feedback on the subsidy, but they seemingly ignored Sea Swift.
“The freight subsidy is not about the government supporting Sea Swift; it’s about the government and others supporting the end consumer of this product to make sure they can get what others get in Australia,” Mr Freeman said.
“As I’ve said before, this is one of the longest supply chains in Australia to get product into these remote communities.
“Personally, and from a Sea Swift perspective, we haven’t had any conversations with the government on this since the cost of living summit.
“And we haven’t been invited to provide our input to the consultation process at this point
“I would expect that may come, because I think we’ve got a lot to add in terms of how best we think a mechanism might work to reduce those freight costs directly to the end customer.”
CONTROVERSY erupted last month when Sea Swift said it would suspend mothershipping operations in the Gulf.
The prawn industry said it was rocked by the announcement on the eve of its season, claiming it was given less than a month’s notice to make alternative plans to get fuel and other essential supplies.
Mr Freeman said it was one of the toughest calls he had made in his short time as CEO.
“It was a very difficult decision for us to make. Mother shipping was the was the birthplace of Sea Swift,” he said.
“We started out of Karumba in the 80s, so the company has got a long history with mothershipping. I first started talking to the mothershipping customers late last year and we were in dialogue with the industry.
“Effectively, there has been a decline over time in the volumes in that industry.”
One factor Sea Swift took into account was the fact that a major player in the Gulf prawn industry purchased its own mothership, which happened to be a former Sea Swift vessel.
However, Mr Freeman said the company had not ruled out a return to mothershipping services in the future.