Expert says ‘cruise to nowhere’ will continue to be in demand as it is one of main income drivers for the country’s ports
by NUR HANANI AZMAN / Pic by BLOOMBERG
PLANS to have Malaysia’s own “cruise to nowhere” scheme by the end of the year appear to have come to a standstill as discussions between port authorities and the federal government have been put on hold.
Penang Port Sdn Bhd CEO Sasedharan Vasudevan said the proposal submitted in September to restart the cruise tourism business is still awaiting approval, with no signs of getting the green light anytime soon.
“We understand that discussions are ongoing between the Ministry of Transport (MoT), Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, and the Ministry of Health (MoH) as they continue to review the standard operating procedures (SOPs) that had been put forward by the ports.
“However, they have not given any deadline for the approval and industry players are still waiting for a stakeholder meeting to be called up,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).
Across the Causeway, Singapore’s “cruise to nowhere” programme was put through its paces earlier this month after an 83-year-old passenger tested positive for Covid-19 onboard the Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas cruise ship.
The result had forced the cruise ship, which set sail on Dec 7, to return a day earlier. Passengers were allowed to disembark after being quarantined in their rooms for most of the day on Dec 10.
Singapore’s health officials announced the following day that the passenger didn’t have the virus after all, after tests conducted came back negative for Covid-19. Quarantine orders for the passenger’s close contacts have since been rescinded.
Despite the challenges, Sasedharan is confident that a “cruise to nowhere” programme will continue to be in demand as it is one of the main income drivers for the country’s ports.
In Penang, Sasedharan said the Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal handled nearly 1.16 million passengers in 2019, of which 64% came from the “cruise to nowhere” package offered by the Leisure World and Oriental Dragon cruise ships.
The Penang Port and the Port Klang Authority (PKA) had earlier presented a joint proposal to MoT, after receiving input from other cruise terminals, including the Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal in Penang, Boustead Cruise Centre in Port Klang and other cruise liners.
PKA GM Captain K Subramaniam said the MoT has since presented the joint proposal to the National Security Council and MoH at the federal level.
He said the “cruise to nowhere” would act as a test for cruise operators to prepare for border crossing when it is allowed in the future. Hence, the tight SOPs recommended in the joint proposal are necessary.
“We are looking forward to furthering discussions on how best we can accommodate the public without compromising health issues. We believe this will help revive the cruise industry,” he told TMR.
Citing Singapore’s experience, Subramaniam said the “cruise to nowhere” programme in Malaysia will initially be offered to Malaysians.
Singapore introduced a raft of safety measures for passengers on the cruises to nowhere, including Covid-19 tests before boarding and after disembarking. The ships are also running at half their usual capacity for safe distancing purposes.
The cruise industry was hit hard early in the pandemic when the virus first hit the Diamond Princess in Japan, followed by the Grand Princess in the US, forcing passengers to be quarantined at sea after hundreds infected onboard.