Asian Cruises Limited by Regional Restrictions Due to Virus Increases

restrictions on Asian cruises due to increase in virus cases
Genting's Explorer Dream resumed sailing from Taiwan in July 2020 (Dream Cruises)

Published May 18, 2021 6:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

An increasing number of cases of COVID-19 in parts of Asia has become the latest setback for the cruise industry. While countries in Europe, ranging from the U.K. to Portugal and Spain, have been moving to reopen their ports to cruise ships, Asian authorities have responded with increased restrictions to slow a new wave of cases reported from Malaysia to Taiwan and Singapore. 

Asia was one of the first geographies to reopen to the cruise industry. Taiwan permitted Genting Hong Kong’s Dream Cruises to start a domestic cruise program last summer sailing between various Taiwanese ports. The success of that program had helped to encourage Singapore to permit a similar program of sea cruises beginning late in 2020 operated both by Dream Cruises and Royal Caribbean International. Recently, after several delays, Malaysia had also given permission for Genting Hong Kong’s Star Cruises to start a similar program of short sea cruises for residents.

Last week, faced with an increasing number of cases of the virus, all three countries announced new restrictions designed to curb the spread of the virus onshore. None of the cruises reported cases of the virus, but in line with the restrictions on land limiting gatherings and residents’ movements, the countries are extending their actions to the cruise lines.

Dream Cruises suspended sailings aboard its Explorer Dream from Keelung between May 12 and June 8. The line said it had operated more than 80 cruises around Taiwan since resuming sailing in July 2020. News of the suspension also came days after the cruise line had started a program with the Ministry of Health and Welfare and Keelung Hospital to begin vaccinations for the crew and shoreside staff supporting the cruise operations.

Genting’s other cruise line, Star Cruises, had also been scheduled to begin a program of one- and two-night cruises from Penang this week aboard its cruise ship the Star Pisces. However, last week’s decision by the Malaysian government to renew restrictions related to the virus has caused the cruise program to be delayed. Genting says it is hopeful the cruises will start shortly after the restrictions are due to be relaxed in early June.

The Singapore Tourism Authority developed a stringent set of guidelines before permitting cruises to resume in November 2020. Working with DMV, they built protocols limiting passengers, health protocols on the ships, and management procedures. Other than an initial scare when a passenger aboard Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas tested positive for the virus but later tested negative in a Singapore hospital, the cruises had been proceeding. 

Singapore last week announced Phase 2 Heightened Alert for the city-state due to an increase in cases of the virus. While the authorities decided not to suspend the cruises, they further tightened restrictions for both Dream Cruises and Royal Caribbean International. Both cruise lines said they were contacting passengers to advise them of the restrictions but planned to continue to operate their short sea cruise programs.

Until mid-June, Singapore is now limiting the cruise ships to no more than 25 percent of their normal passenger capacity. Singapore had initiated the cruise programs with a capacity restraint of 50 percent but at the end of February, Royal Caribbean International told investors that they were in discussion with the authorities to increase the restriction to 65 percent of the cruise ship’s passenger capacity. As part of the increased restrictions, Royal Caribbean has said it is only permitting two passengers per cabin on sailings till early June.

Onboard both the Quantum of the Seas and the World Dream passengers are experiencing further restrictions in daily activities. Onshore, Singapore has restricted all indoor dining and this is also being extended to the cruise ships where all the dining rooms and restaurants, as well as buffets, are closed. Meals have to be ordered in advance, largely using QR codes and an app on passengers’ phones. Passengers can have meals delivered to tables that have been set up in the companionways outside their cabin doors to limit crew-passenger interaction or takeaway pre-packaged food is also available, but again passengers are asked to eat food and consume beverages in their cabins.

Entertainment is also requiring reservations to attend and the number of passengers in the lounges or showrooms is also being limited. In the case of the Quantum of the Seas, a passenger posting on social media reported that the capacity was limited to just 50 people in the theater. Social distancing practices and face coverings are also being required all around the ships except in a passenger’s cabin.

The cruise lines all report that they are hopeful the authorities will permit them to reduce restrictions and resume previous levels of operation in June.