Singapore to resume cruises to nowhere for residents from November

Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas ship will begin sailing in December. PHOTO: ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL

SINGAPORE - Two cruise lines have been given the green light to offer "cruises to nowhere" from Singapore starting in November, following the development of a set of safety guidelines to prevent the on-board spread of the coronavirus.

These will be round trip cruises with no ports of call.

Genting Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International, which are homeported in Singapore, will be part of a "safe cruise" pilot that will cater only to Singapore residents at a reduced capacity of 50 per cent, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said in a statement on Thursday (Oct 8).

Genting Cruise Lines' World Dream will begin sailing on Nov 6, while Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas ship will begin sailing in December.

All passengers will have to be tested for Covid-19 prior to boarding as part of the STB's CruiseSafe programme, jointly developed by global classification body DNV GL.

They will also have to comply with safe management measures, such as mask-wearing and safe distancing of 1m between groups of passengers.

The Straits Times reported last Wednesday (Sept 30) that the STB had appointed DNV GL to create a certification programme for cruise lines that are keen to offer "cruises to nowhere" departing Singapore.

Cruise ships have not been allowed to call here since March 13, when the Republic joined a number of countries in closing its ports to these vessels over fears that they may carry infected passengers. The Diamond Princess, which was quarantined off the coast of Japan in February, served as a cautionary tale of the coronavirus' rapid spread, with more than 700 passengers and crew members found ill.

But with Thursday's announcement, stringent safety measures will be required of cruise operators here to prevent a repeat of a similar incident.

All cruise lines must be audited and receive CruiseSafe certification to sail out of Singapore, the STB said. It added that the programme is benchmarked against global health and safety standards, including those of the World Health Organisation, Cruise Lines International Association and Singapore's own SG Clean national cleanliness initiative.

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CruiseSafe standards include:

- Infection control measures at every stage of a passenger's journey, including a mandatory Covid-19 test prior to boarding.

- Strict and frequent cleaning and sanitisation protocols on ships.

- Safe management measures aligned with prevailing national policy at the time of sailing

- Ensuring 100 per cent fresh air throughout the ship, so no recirculation of air.

- Reducing ship capacity to enable sufficient safe distancing.

- Setting up on-board measures to discourage close contact and intermingling between groups of passengers.

- Emergency response plans for incidents relating to Covid-19.

​Regular inspections will be conducted on-board during the pilot sailings, STB said. Cruise lines that are found to be non-compliant will face penalties including fines, suspension of sailings and having their CruiseSafe certifications revoked.

Genting Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International were chosen for the pilot as they have demonstrated the ability to put in place the necessary protocols and precautionary measures, STB said, adding that the two cruise lines are in the process of being certified.

Genting Cruise Lines said in a separate statement that it will be kicking off sailings with a series of two- and three-night cruises, in time for the school and year-end holidays.

All guests aged 13 and above will have to undergo Covid-19 testing before boarding, while those aged seven and above will be required to present their TraceTogether Token or registered TraceTogether app at the time of check-in, it said.

Mr Michael Goh, head of international sales at Genting Cruise Lines and president of Dream Cruises, said the cruise line will provide Singapore residents with more vacation options beyond land-based resorts.

"We are delighted to be the first cruise ship to restart operations here in Singapore and to give a much needed boost to the local tourism industry," he said.

The $100 SingapoRediscovers vouchers, to be issued to all Singaporeans in December, will not be redeemable for sailings.

Royal Caribbean said it will be offering three- and four-night cruises, which are now open for booking.

A check on its website found that three-night cruises start at $374 excluding taxes and fees, while four-night cruises start at $509. A two-night opening cruise on Dec 1 starts at $334.

Those that book before Nov 30 will be allowed changes and cancellations up to 48 hours before the cruise sets sail, it said. Any guest that tests positive for Covid-19 during the three weeks prior to their cruise will receive full credit towards a future sailing, while those that test positive during the voyage will be entitled to a full refund.

Royal Caribbean will cover up to $25,000 per person for Covid-19-related costs, including on-board medical costs, any required quarantine and travel home, the cruise line said.

Strict safety measures, testing for foreign crew

The crew on pilot cruises will be subject to stringent measures beyond Singapore's prevailing requirements for cross-border travel, the STB said.

Those that need to enter Singapore to serve on the ships must first undergo 14 days of isolation in their home country and test negative for Covid-19 before their departure.

They will be tested on arrival and serve a 14-day stay-home notice, after which they will be tested again. Once sailings begin, all crew members will also be routinely tested.

The tourism board said that Singapore is one of the first countries in the world to develop and implement a mandatory audit and certification programme for cruise lines, adding that it aims to set a benchmark for the future of cruising in the South-east Asian region as the lead coordinator for cruise in Asean.

The Government will monitor the outcomes of the pilot sailings carefully in the coming months before deciding on the next steps for cruises, STB said.

To prepare for the eventual recovery of the cruise industry, it has also partnered the Cruise Lines International Association and Travel Weekly Asia to hold a series of training webinars for regional travel agents.

Travel agents are key to the cruise industry, accounting for about 80 per cent of cruise packages sold in the region, it said.

The training will take place in October and focus on rebuilding the demand for cruises by raising awareness of the enhanced sanitisation measures for cruise lines and strengthening consumer confidence.

Ms Kelly Craighead, the Cruise Lines International Association president's and chief executive, said in a statement that the association supports a measured and carefully managed resumption of local cruise itineraries that work within international border restrictions, such as those announced in Singapore.

"We have seen a very limited and carefully controlled resumption of cruise operations in some areas, most notably in Europe and parts of Asia. The successes of these operations, together with the extensive health measures that support them, will help inform the cruise industry's global response to Covid-19," she said.

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