SINGAPORE: Two cruise lines will be allowed to offer Singapore residents "cruises to nowhere" from November, under a pilot scheme with enhanced safety protocols and mandatory COVID-19 testing for both crew and passengers.
Genting Cruise Lines’ World Dream will start offering those cruises on Nov 6, while Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas will begin sailing in December, said the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in a press release on Thursday (Oct 8).
The two vessels, whose home ports are in Singapore, are part of a pilot scheme that will allow round-trips with no ports of call at a maximum capacity of 50 per cent only to Singapore residents, said STB.
"The Government will monitor the outcomes of the pilot sailings carefully in the coming months before deciding on the next steps for cruises," said STB.
SUPER SEACATION ON WORLD DREAM
In a press release on Thursday, Dream Cruises, which is owned by Genting Cruise Lines, said that it has "completely re-examined and enhanced all of its health, hygiene and operating protocols" in accordance with the local authorities’ strict guidelines including stringent health screening processes.
“We are delighted to be the first cruise ship to restart operations here in Singapore and to give a much needed boost to the local tourism industry," said Dream Cruises president Michael Goh.
"We are able to provide Singapore residents with more vacation options beyond land-based resorts and we hope to bring back the joy of cruising with safety being paramount," he added.
The World Dream will offer “Super Seacation” cruise packages for two or three nights.
STB chief executive Keith Tan said that public health and safety was the authority's utmost priority, even as it reopened various sectors of the economy.
"We are glad to work with Genting Cruise Lines on the cruise pilot with a focus on the necessary safe management measures to ensure the safety of passengers and crew," he said.
"COVID-19 PROTECTIONS" FOR QUANTUM OF THE SEAS
Royal Caribbean said on Thursday that Quantum of the Seas will start offering three- and four-night cruises from Dec 1.
It said that the vessel will feature an upgraded heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, which will continuously supply "100% fresh, filtered air" from outside the ship to replace used air onboard the vessel.
In its press release, Royal Caribbean says that the air on Quantum of the Seas is "never re-circulated between spaces".
A compliance audit will be conducted by appointed certification body DNV GL prior to sailing to ensure that STB's CruiseSafe standards are met, board director Annie Chang said in response to CNA's queries.
"While the cruise experience will be different than it was pre-pandemic, we are committed to providing the signature Royal Caribbean holiday that guests know and love, while keeping the health and safety of everyone onboard as our top priority,” said Royal Caribbean International's managing director Angie Stephen.
Royal Caribbean is also providing "COVID-19 protections" to passengers, including 100 per cent credit towards a future cruise should a guest or any member of their travel party test positive for COVID-19 during the three weeks prior to their booked cruise.
Full refunds will be provided if a guest, or any member of their travel party, tests positive during the cruise, it added.
"Royal Caribbean will cover COVID-19 related costs up to S$25,000 per person in the travel party for onboard medical costs, any required quarantine and travel home," it said.
To provide assurance for safe cruising, a mandatory CruiseSafe certification programme is being developed by STB.
The programme sets out stringent hygiene and safety measures throughout the passenger journey – from prior to boarding, to after disembarkation.
"STB’s CruiseSafe was created in consultation with the industry and is benchmarked against global health and safety standards," said STB.
"Singapore is one of the first countries in the world to develop and implement a mandatory audit and certification programme for cruise lines before they can commence sailings."
Genting Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International were approved for the pilot as they have demonstrated the ability to put in place stringent protocols and precautionary measures as part of their CruiseSafe certification, said STB.
Prior to sailing, all cruise lines sailing out of Singapore must obtain the CruiseSafe certification, which requires independent assessment by a third-party certification firm.
The CruiseSafe standards include:
1. Infection control measures at every stage of a passenger’s journey, including a mandatory COVID-19 test prior to boarding
2. Strict and frequent cleaning and sanitisation protocols onboard
3. Safe management measures aligned with prevailing national policy at the time of sailing
4. Ensuring 100 per cent fresh air throughout the ship
5. Reducing ship capacity to enable sufficient safe distancing
6. Setting up onboard measures to discourage close contact and inter-mingling between groups
7. Emergency response plans for incidents relating to COVID-19
Pilot cruises will have to comply with prevailing safe management measures, such as mask-wearing and 1m-safe distancing.
Regular inspections will be conducted onboard to ensure compliance, with non-compliant cruise lines subjected to penalties including fines, suspension of sailings and revocation of CruiseSafe certification.
In the event that a COVID-19 case is detected on board the ship, affected passengers and crew, as well as their close contacts, will be isolated immediately, Ms Chang said.
"Deep cleaning on board the ship will be carried out in accordance with guidelines, and leisure activities on-board will cease immediately," she told CNA.
She added that COVID-19 tests are able to be carried out on board cruise ships.
With short itineraries and no port of calls, "the likelihood of an outbreak is assessed to be low given that all passengers and crew are tested".
"With the appropriate ... measures in place, such cruises are no less safe compared to other activities and settings that have since resumed," Ms Chang said.
"Contingency plans are in place in the unlikely event of an outbreak and this includes the ship returning to Singapore so passengers can disembark and medical support can be provided immediately if necessary."
According to STB, crew members on these cruises are subjected to stringent measures beyond Singapore’s prevailing requirements for cross-border travel.
Crew members who need to enter Singapore must first undergo 14 days isolation in their home country and must test negative for COVID-19 before their departure.
They will also be tested on arrival in Singapore and serve a 14-day stay-home notice. They will be tested again at the end of the notice period, and be subject to routine tests once sailings begin.