With curbs on overseas travel, more heading to Southern Islands

The causeway joining St John's Island with Lazarus Island.
The causeway joining St John's Island with Lazarus Island.ST PHOTO: TOH WEN LI

As the global pandemic rages on, more locals have been heading to Singapore's Southern Islands for their dose of sun, sea and sand.

Some spots have proven particularly popular - since beaches reopened in June, the average monthly visitorship to St John's, Lazarus and Seringat islands, which are linked to one another, has been up by 60 per cent compared with last year.

A spokesman for the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), which manages these islands, said: "We have observed an increase in visitors to St John's, Lazarus and Seringat islands since the reopening of beaches on June 19, with the number of visitors averaging about 10,800 per month.

"This is significantly higher than the average monthly visitor count of about 6,800 in 2019," the spokesman added, noting that SLA has sent officers down to remind people to observe safe distancing.

Ferry operators and yacht rental firms said that since the circuit breaker measures were eased, there has been strong demand from people looking for a quick getaway.

"We foresee that as long as the borders are closed, the (higher) demand will be there," said Mr Li Guoli, manager at Singapore Island Cruise and Ferry Services, which plies the route between Singapore's mainland and the Southern Islands. He said ridership is up by as much as 40 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

In August, the ferry operator - which typically takes people to St John's and Kusu islands - added a direct weekday service to St John's Island after it realised that it was a popular stop for guests heading to the beach on Lazarus Island.

Marina South Ferries, which picks up passengers from the mainland and stops at St John's, Kusu and Big Sisters' islands, has meanwhile seen ridership go up by about 50 per cent compared with levels before the pandemic.

"Previously, our customers comprised mostly migrant workers and expats," said managing director Eric Wong. "Now we see a lot more Singaporeans rediscovering Singapore and walking the road less travelled - most of them are first-timers to the Southern Islands."

He said the company has added more ferries to meet the demand - during peak periods, it has a boat leaving every 15 minutes - and has also increased the frequency of departures on weekdays.

The annual Kusu Island pilgrimage season, which began yesterday and runs till Nov 14, will see more devotees flock to the island. Devotees have to book a seat via SLA's online portal - the regular public ferry routes will not stop at Kusu Island. No more than 500 visitors will be allowed to travel to the island each day, and ferries heading there will have up to 50 passengers per hourly departure.

"As weekends are a popular period during Kusu pilgrimage season, visitors are advised to visit Kusu Island on weekdays," SLA's spokesman added.

Most yacht charter firms The Sunday Times spoke to have seen more interest from people looking to explore the islands. At Ximula Sail, inquiries have gone up by about 30 per cent. It offers, among other things, a four-hour yacht trip around the Southern Islands, dropping anchor at Lazarus Island.

"Before Covid, we would see a handful of families (at Lazarus) - it was almost like a private beach," said marketing assistant and crew member Vanessa Lim. "Now it feels like Sentosa or East Coast Park."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 18, 2020, with the headline 'With curbs on overseas travel, more heading to Southern Islands'. Print Edition | Subscribe