'Cruises to nowhere' from S'pore set to resume; STB to launch safety guidelines for cruise lines

Chan Brothers Travel will be partnering Dream Cruises to market and sell "cruises to nowhere" from Singapore, though sales have not yet been launched. PHOTO: DREAM CRUISES

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is creating a health and safety framework that will allow for "cruises to nowhere" departing from Singapore, in what could be the first step towards resuming leisure travel.

On Sept 23, it appointed classification society DNV GL Singapore to create a cruise compliance audit and certification programme for cruise lines that want to restart sailings from the Republic.

Cruise ships have not been allowed to call here since March 13.

According to tender documents seen by The Straits Times, STB plans to allow "cruise to nowhere" sailings out of Singapore, with a maximum capacity of 50 per cent of the usual capacity for the first three months when sailings resume. It did not specify when this would be.

To prepare for this, it is working with DNV GL to establish a cruise certification programme benchmarked against global health, safety and hygiene standards.

A number of countries closed their ports to cruise vessels earlier this year after the rapid spread of the coronavirus aboard the Diamond Princess, which was quarantined off the coast of Japan in February. At least 700 passengers and crew members were found to have been infected.

DNV GL, which was chosen over three other bidders, will establish a set of health and safety protocols, conduct compliance audits and certify cruise ships that meet requirements. It will also develop a penalty framework for non-compliance to safety management measures.

The firm, which developed its own certification in infection prevention for the maritime industry in June, has already awarded it to Genting Cruise Lines' Explorer Dream vessel. The Explorer Dream has been operating island-hopping cruises in Taiwan since July.

All cruise lines must be audited and receive Singapore's certification to sail out of its ports, STB said in the tender documents. For the first three months, inspectors will also be required to conduct onboard checks for each sailing.

Ms Annie Chang, STB's cruise director, told ST on Wednesday (Sept 30) that the certification will serve as a quality mark to assure passengers that the cruise has met required safety and hygiene standards. More details will be announced later, she added.

Asked whether the $100 SingapoRediscovers vouchers, to be issued to all Singaporeans in December, would be redeemable for cruise tickets, Ms Chang reiterated that they can be spent only on hotel stays, attraction tickets and approved tours.

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Chan Brothers Travel told ST that it will be partnering Dream Cruises to market and sell "cruises to nowhere" from Singapore, though sales have not yet been launched.

Genting Cruise Lines, which operates the Star, Dream, and Crystal Cruises brands, will also be launching domestic cruise itineraries in the Chinese cruise hub of Hainan, in addition to its ongoing Taiwan sailings. It did not respond to queries.

Cruising remains on pause in much of the world as the industry seeks to develop a set of health and safety norms that will prevent onboard outbreaks and convince port authorities to reopen cruise traffic.

An expert panel assembled by Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Group put up a list of 70 health and safety recommendations for the cruise industry last week. They include pre-boarding screening, plans to address cases of infection on board and strictly controlled shore excursions.

The two cruise giants pledged to develop new operating protocols based on the recommendations, which they said would be submitted to the authorities around the globe for review and approval.

Ms Angie Stephen, Royal Caribbean Group's Asia-Pacific managing director, said its ships will feature upgraded air filtration systems, changes to dining configurations and other health and safety measures when they return to service.

Asked whether it will be seeking certification to sail out of Singapore, Ms Stephen said the cruise line will work closely with local authorities to implement necessary requirements.

"We will only resume cruising once we have the blessing of the local authorities in Singapore, and will announce our cruises when that happens," she said, adding that there are no current plans to resume international itineraries from Singapore, as ports in Asia remain closed.

Norwegian Cruise Line did not respond to queries on whether it plans to attain certification, or offer cruise to nowhere itineraries here.

Celebrity Cruises also declined to comment, saying that its sailings remain suspended worldwide until Oct 31.

A spokesman for Princess Cruises said its global operations will be paused until mid-December, adding that a return to service operations involving public health and safety protocols has yet to be formalised.

Ms Alicia Seah, director of public relations and communications at Dynasty Travel, said the travel agency is looking forward to collaborating with cruise lines that develop "sail to nowhere" offerings.

Affordable ticket prices will be key to drawing locals, given the abundance of staycation packages on land, she noted.

"If they come in time for the year-end holidays I think the cruises will be quite attractive," said Ms Seah.

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