SINGAPORE - Dream Cruises ship World Dream was forced to turn back to Singapore after a Covid-19 case was found on board.
The four-day, three-night cruise to nowhere, which had 1,646 passengers and 1,249 crew members on board, departed on Sunday (July 11). It arrived at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre at around 6.30am on Wednesday (July 14), a few hours before it was originally scheduled to return at 9am.
A 40-year-old passenger was identified as a close contact of a confirmed Covid-19 case on Tuesday and was immediately isolated as part of onboard health protocols, said Singapore Tourism Board's director of cruise Annie Chang on Wednesday. The passenger later underwent polymerase chain reaction tests on board and provisionally tested positive for the coronavirus.
The passenger, who had earlier tested negative during the mandatory pre-departure antigen rapid test (ART) on the day of departure, disembarked from the ship via a dedicated route and gangway and was taken to National University Hospital for confirmatory testing.
The Ministry of Health has since confirmed that the passenger has Covid-19, said Ms Chang. This was also shared with all passengers via an announcement on board the ship at 4pm.
The case is tied to a growing cluster that has been linked to KTV outlets and nightclubs here.
Three travelling companions were isolated on board and have tested negative for Covid-19. All on-board leisure activities, including those at entertainment, recreational and dining venues, have ceased and passengers have been asked to remain in their cabins.
Disembarkation will commence when contact tracing for the positive case is completed, said Ms Chang, adding that close contacts will be quarantined.
However, passengers will only be allowed to leave the Marina Bay Cruise Centre after a mandatory ART. The ship's crew will undergo regular routine testing every seven days and will also undergo the ART.
"As a further precautionary measure, all passengers are also required to monitor their health for 14 days from the date of disembarkation and undergo a swab test at a designated government swabbing facility at the end of the monitoring period," she added.
According to a notice from Dream Cruises to passengers seen by The Straits Times, the infected passenger was reported to have received both Covid-19 vaccination doses.
In a separate statement, the cruise operator said the close contacts were identified within an hour, through a system that uses information from the passengers' wearable devices, keycards and closed-circuit television footage "to create activity maps of all guests".
"Upon detection, onboard contact tracing was immediately activated to identify and to inform close contact guests and crew for further quarantine and examination," it added.
Full cleaning and sanitisation are being carried out on World Dream, including all areas previously visited by the passenger. The guest's cabin has been blocked off until further notice.
The ship is equipped with a "100 per cent external fresh air ventilation system" which filters and supplies air to the staterooms and public areas, "ensuring a constant and healthy flow of fresh air with no recirculation of air between staterooms", said Dream Cruises.
As a precautionary measure, the cruise operator has cancelled a subsequent three-day, two-night World Dream cruise originally scheduled to depart at 9pm on Wednesday.
These passengers can choose to transfer to other cruise dates, opt for a future cruise credit or obtain a full refund. They may contact their original booking source for the necessary arrangements.
Since the first resumption of cruise sailings from Singapore in November, World Dream has had 103 sailings with more than 130,000 guests with no Covid-19 incidents on board, said Dream Cruises.
When ST visited the cruise centre early on Wednesday morning, the drop-off point was already secured by about 20 staff who were tasked to ensure nobody entered the area.
The infected passenger and his close contacts had left the cruise ship via a separate route and gangway from the remaining passengers, many of whom were seen waiting at the balconies of their rooms throughout the day.
At 1am on Wednesday, passengers on board were asked to return to their cabins and remain there until further notice. Only essential service crew with personal protective equipment are allowed limited movement within the ship, including the delivery of meals and necessities to guests in their rooms.
Meals are delivered directly to the individual rooms. Guests are also given access to complimentary Wi-Fi.
In an announcement at 2pm,the ship's captain Jonny Mehtola shared that all passengers on board will be compensated with a free cruise trip.
Passengers told ST that they did not notice anyone particularly sick on the ship or notice big groups gathering together.
A passenger, Ms Joanne Tan, was watching a movie with her boyfriend at around 1am when she heard an announcement that a guest was "preliminary positive" for Covid-19. At that time, many passengers were still on the sun deck, recalled the 24-year-old tech consultant.
Five hours later, at about 6am, the captain announced that the ship was headed back to the cruise centre and affected passengers would be allowed off first.
Ms Tan is unfazed by the turn of events, as a similar situation had taken place before on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in December.
Then, the Quantum of the Seas returned on day three of a four-day voyage after an elderly Singaporean male passenger tested positive for the coronavirus on board the ship.
Subsequent tests after the ship returned to Singapore on Dec 9 showed that the 83-year-old man did not have Covid-19, indicating the earlier result was a false positive.
Ms Janine Tan, 22, and her four friends created a group chat with their parents after they heard the announcement. "My parents felt assured about the way things were managed," said the humanities student, who received her first vaccine dose this month. "(The first jab) gave some peace of mind."
Meanwhile, another passenger, Mr Rishi Lalwani, was surprised, as he felt that the Covid-19 situation here has been largely stable.
Various precautionary measures were in place on the ship, including having safe distancing ambassadors to ensure guidelines were followed, the 36-year-old bank employee highlighted.
Mr Rishi and his wife were asleep when the first announcement came at 1am. "The timing of the announcement clearly meant it was very important," he said.
Like many others, he was pleased with how the staff handled the situation. "I would like to compliment the captain for being seemingly transparent in the news he had," he noted.
"We still had a good time and this event was completely unforeseen, so I have no regrets."