Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture – The cruise business in Japan is getting back on track, with vessels gradually resume sailing with new COVID-19 safety measures in place after numerous canceled trips due to the pandemic.
Major cruise ships Asuka II and Nippon Maru had made a total of 21 trips by Monday after restarting operations in September around the time the government ended a coronavirus state of emergency that covered Tokyo and several other prefectures.
In early November, the 50,444-ton Asuka II with about 300 people onboard entered a port in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki Prefecture, becoming the first cruise ship to stop at the eastern Japan port in about two years.
“I haven’t been able to travel anywhere lately, but I joined this cruise because I heard it was going to sail nearby,” said a man in his 70s from Suzaka, Nagano Prefecture, who went on the trip with his wife.
While the man admitted he was worried about the coronavirus, he said passengers must follow strict protocols to be allowed onboard, including testing negative for COVID-19.
In order to prevent the spread of infections, the Ibaraki prefectural government also restricted people from welcoming the ship from the dock.
“It is quite difficult to strike a balance between coronavirus countermeasures and economic activities. We have finally come this far,” said Hiroetsu Aoyama, a senior prefectural official.
Since resuming operations in October, the Asuka II has made several voyages, including a trip from Yokohama to Nagasaki, with an Asuka official saying that demand for such trips has increased.
The anti-virus protocols implemented by operators also include reduced capacity. The operator of Asuka II, which can hold about 870 passengers, only allows half of the ship’s capacity, while Nippon Maru allows about 65% of its approximate 530-person capacity.
The operators will conduct COVID-19 tests for passengers both before and on the day they board the ships.
In May this year, the Asuka II embarked on a domestic cruise, only to return to Yokohama Port after a passenger tested positive for the coronavirus.
In February last year during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Diamond Princess cruise ship was quarantined in Yokohama Port after infections were found among some 3,700 passengers and crew from 56 countries and regions onboard.
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