Cruise ships in Japan back on track with COVID safety measures

© Kyodo News

The cruise business in Japan is getting back on track as vessels gradually resume sailing with COVID-19 safety measures in place after numerous canceled trips due to the pandemic.

Major cruise ships Asuka II and Nippon Maru had operated a total of 21 trips by Monday, after restarting operations shortly before or after the government ended in September 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 the coronavirus.

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, near Tokyo, to Nagasaki in the southwest, 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 also allows about 65 percent of its capacity of some 530 people.

The operators will conduct COVID-19 tests for passengers 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 novel coronavirus.

In February last year in 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.