Cruise ships are resuming domestic operations after long service suspensions caused by the novel coronavirus crisis.
The Nippon Maru cruise ship operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Passenger Lines Ltd. departed the port of Niihama in Ehime Prefecture on Sunday and will arrive at the port of Sasebo in Nagasaki Prefecture the following day.
It is the first time for a cruise ship carrying passengers to go into service since February.
The Asuka II cruise ship operated by NYK Cruises Co. will also resume services from November.
Cruise ship operators are implementing infection prevention measures to ensure safe travel, while the transport ministry is planning to financially support infection control efforts at port facilities.
After the Nippon Maru arrives at Sasebo, passengers will visit local tourist spots, such as the Huis Ten Bosch amusement park and Kujuku islands. The cruise ship is slated to return to Niihama on Tuesday afternoon.
Although the Nippon Maru has a capacity of 530 people, the number of guests is limited to only around 200, while some 100 crew members will be on board.
The four-day cruise trip aboard the Asuka II will begin at the port of Yokohama on Nov. 2. The ship will head for the port of Shimizu in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Ahead of the trip, Asuka II crew members conducted a two-day drill through Wednesday to practice responding to a potential coronavirus outbreak on the ship. The members checked the steps for isolating and transporting the infected passengers.
According to the transport ministry, a cruise ship in service last docked at a Japanese port on Feb. 26.
The Diamond Princess cruise ship, docked at Yokohama port, and the Costa Atlantica ship, docked at the port of Nagasaki, experienced onboard coronavirus outbreaks, and measures to avoid creating the "3Cs" of closed, crowded and close-contact settings have been a challenge for ship operators.
In September, the Japan Oceangoing Passenger Ship Association and the Ports & Harbors Association of Japan compiled guidelines for infection prevention measures necessary to resume cruise ship services. The guidelines called for checking passengers' health conditions and their travel histories in the two weeks prior to boarding. They also sought to ensure sufficient distancing among passengers, utilize contract-tracing applications and encourage the use of face masks and disinfectants.
Both the Nippon Maru and the Asuka II have adopted measures based on the guidelines. The city of Sasebo and Shizuoka Prefecture, which manage the ports of the two ships' respective destinations, will also take coronavirus measures. Specifically, Shizuoka Prefecture will prohibit general visitors from entering the pier of Shimizu port.
The transport ministry is considering supporting infection prevention measures at passenger terminals by subsidizing costs for separating passengers, setting up body temperature measuring devices and introducing medical-use tents to house those feeling unwell.
The ministry's aid program is expected to be launched in fiscal 2021 in order to encourage travels on cruise ships.
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