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Japan Reopens Ports to International Cruises

Japan reopens to international cruises
Japan's Asuka II will expand to offer cruises to Australia, New Zealand and a World Cruise after the ports reopen (Asuka Cruises)

Published Nov 15, 2022 6:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

In another positive development for the cruise industry, Japan announced that it will reopen its ports to cruise ships in an effort to expand tourism. Japan follows Australia and New Zealand which also reopened to cruise ships a few months ago and India which started its new cruise season with the first arrival last weekend since the onset of the pandemic in 2020. Asia has historically been a strong market for the cruise industry and the reopening of ports in different parts of the Pacific will contribute to restoring the industry’s growth to pre-pandemic levels.

Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism reported that it has received opinions from experts in infectious diseases and crisis management, confirming that guidelines developed with the relevant ministries and agencies provide a solid framework for cruising. “Today (November 15th), we would like to inform you that guidelines have been published by each organization and we have resumed accepting international cruises in Japan,” the minister announced.

Japan will begin accepting cruises with international passengers and originating in international ports as well as permitting its domestic cruise industry to resume calls at international destinations. For the past two years, Japan has permitted domestic cruises and more recently has loosened restrictions to permit more international tourists to visit the country. In October, the ministry estimated that nearly a half-million international tourists arrived in Japan which tripled the number from the prior month. In 2019, they noted, that more than two million people visited Japan on cruise ships.

The newly released guidelines were developed in consultation with the cruise industry. The Japan International Cruise Council, an industry group of foreign cruise companies, contributed to the guidelines building on similar agreements with other countries. The cruise lines will need to review plans with ports of call and have plans dealing with the possibility of an outbreak of COVID-19 or passengers testing positive for the virus.

The cruise lines have agreed that their crewmembers will each have had three COVID-19 vaccinations. They are also requiring that at least 95 percent of the passengers have had two or more COVID-19 vaccinations. The cruise ships also need to have testing capabilities and quarantine any passengers displaying symptoms or testing positive for the virus. 

Japan like all destinations had closed to cruises in March 2020 as the virus spread into a pandemic. Before that, Japan had permitted the Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess to dock in Yokohama, but without a full understanding of the emerging virus, health authorities decided to quarantine passengers aboard the cruise ship contributing to what became the largest outbreak of the virus aboard a cruise ship.

Japan’s cruise industry and the international market welcomed the news that the country could begin receiving cruises as early as next month. Asuka Cruises, owned by NYK, in anticipation has already scheduled a 40-day cruise from Japan to ports including Australia and New Zealand due to sail in February and a 104-day world cruise departing in April 2023. Among the international cruise lines Princess Cruises, which had developed a large market in Japan, is expected to return, while Royal Caribbean Group’s Celebrity Cruises recently announced an extended summer 2024 cruise program from Japan followed by cruises to Southeast Asia. The Japan International Cruise Committee reports that foreign cruise ships have already planned 166 visits scheduled through March 2023.

Australia, New Zealand, and several regions in Southeast Asia had reopened to cruises in recent months. Singapore, which was one the first to permit domestic cruises, also dropped restrictions permitting cruise ships to resume visits to international ports.

The Mumbai Port Authority in India celebrated on November 13 the arrival of its first cruise ship since 2020. The Viking Mars made a port call with 834 passengers aboard during a cruise from Oman ending in Thailand. According to the authorities, before the cruise season ends in May 2023, around 30 international cruise ships are scheduled to visit Mumbai. The port authority is also investing in a new cruise terminal due to open by 2024 to encourage further growth in the international cruise market.