Not the right time to sail ‘cruise to nowhere’

by SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH / pic by BLOOMBERG

MALAYSIA’S plan to embark on a “cruise to nowhere” excursion has been put on hold once again as Covid-19 cases rose rapidly, consistently registering five-digit in a day.

The local cruise industry saw a glimmer of hope back in March as the Covid-19-free voyages were ready to be executed, but fell short with the rising infection rate and the recent lockdown measures.

Port Klang Authority GM Capt K Subramaniam said the plan, which was to kick off along the Malacca Strait with Georgetown and Port Klang being the points of entry, could not follow through as Penang and Selangor are struggling to keep their Covid-19 cases down.

“Penang and Port Klang are among the highest infected areas, so it will be difficult to facilitate cross-border movement to these places.

“The waiting game continues as we have yet to be in control of things. We cannot really determine exactly when the cruise will start, and that is a problem,” he told The Malaysian Reserve recently.

In March, Penang Port Sdn Bhd and Genting Cruise Lines announced a voyage package, offering Langkawi itineraries during the festive holiday in May.

The plan was in line with the completion of the RM155 million expansion of Penang’s cruise ship terminal, which allows for two mega cruise vessels to dock with 12,000 passengers handling capacity.

The proposal to launch the domestic cruise travel was drafted at the end of last year after observing the success of other countries’ revival of their cruise business, including Singapore.

The latest to roll out the no-stop cruise travel was Hong Kong after its government announced voyage plans for July.

Should Malaysia manage to bring down its number of daily positive cases, which has been the yardstick for the government in opening the economy, Subramaniam said the cruise travel plan could be resumed in October when the country enters its third phase of the National Recovery Plan.

“It seems like it could be kicked off in Phase 3. Certainly, we cannot do it in Phase 2 with only 10% of the target population being vaccinated and about 4,000 positive cases daily.

“I believe cruise liners themselves are aware of the situation. At the moment, they are not too worried as the European routes, as well as the US, are opening up.

“Some of the ships in Europe are heading for countries that have gotten their cases under control.”

He said the onus is on the National Security Council to give the green light through the Ministry of Transport Ministry as cruise liners are ready to implement the required standard operating procedures (SOPs).

“The SOPs are all prepared and the vessels have already gotten their certifications.

“Cruise liners have done several voyages in Singapore, so they have the experience on how to handle the cruises during these times,” he said.

Speaking of Singapore, on July 14 the Dream Cruises was forced to make an earlier-than-scheduled return to the city-state after a coronavirus case was detected on board, reports said.

The cruises — starting and ending in Singapore with no stops — were launched last year as part of the travel industry’s attempt to bounce back.

The individual, who returned a positive PCR test, was believed to have been in close contact with another case before boarding. The passenger was reportedly fully vaccinated and had tested negative before boarding.

Owner and operator of the ship, Genting Group, has introduced safety measures on board, including regularly disinfecting public areas.