All aboard cruise to nowhere

by NUR HANANI AZMAN / pic by BLOOMBERG

MALAYSIA’S plan to embark on a cruise to nowhere excursion will come to fruition with Penang Port Sdn Bhd and Port Klang Authority (PKA) expecting business to resume in December at the latest.

PKA GM Capt K Subramaniam said although global cruise is restarting, there are still many uncertainties especially with regards to health protocols while cruise lines and terminals are stretched thin with no income, increasing overheads and maintenance.

He said there is a need for governments to support the restart and ease the pressure on the industry, especially now at a juncture where any further delay may jeopardise Malaysia’s position as a popular cruise destination.

“We have engaged the National Security Council and the Health Ministry through the Transport Ministry since early this year to restart the cruise industry. Specific standard operating procedures (SOPs) have been tabled over several meetings awaiting approval.

“The SOPs are mainly related to physical distancing, sanitary standards, reduced passenger loads as well as double-dose vaccination. Response and management plans have also been tabled in case of any detected Covid-19 cases. We hope to start in December 2021,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) recently.

Due to the outbreak of Covid-19, Malaysia had issued a blanket ban on cruise ships in March 2020. With the Langkawi international tourism bubble initiative set to take off mid-November, the cruise to nowhere future looks bright.

Subramaniam said PKA was initially considering the cruise to nowhere programme particularly from Penang and Port Klang only.

“However, with the opening of international borders and the success of the Langkawi tourism bubble, we are hoping for international cruises to call Malaysian ports via Malacca Straits Rivera-Singapore-Melaka-Port Klang-Penang-Langkawi.

“Also, we can possibly include Phuket or Krabi if Thailand authorities open them up for cruises. It is all subject to the Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand consensus.” he added.

Cruise companies often schedule cruise to nowhere trips to fill the gaps in their long routes. Its short journey offers a roundtrip itinerary with no ports of call, except for the passengers’ disembarkation terminal.

Meanwhile, Penang Port CEO Datuk Sasedharan Vasudevan said at the moment the port is in talk with three cruise operators for a domestic route.

“Cruise companies have let people go in the last two years and are now rehiring, some of which are foreign workers. They are waiting for a few processes to go through. All of this will take another three to four weeks, so we expect to start by mid December.

“For international cruise liners, it all depends on the government and the Langkawi bubble will be the benchmark. In fact, we are much safer as the SOP only allows cruise liners to run at 50% capacity, unlike hotels which are running at 80% to 90% capacity,” he told TMR.

Sasedharan was aware that agents have started promoting packages as this is the best time for European tourists to come to the Far East due to the winter season there.

“There is a plan for the Singapore-Penang-Phuket travel bubble, which we are waiting for the green light. I believe an international cruise route will happen next year,” he said.

In July this year, TMR reported that 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 lockdown measures taken then.

The proposal to launch domestic cruise travel was drafted at the end of 2020 after observing the success of other countries’ revival of their cruise business, including Singapore.