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After 8 months, Japanese cruise ships start sailing again

FILE PHOTO: The Diamond Princess Cruise ship shown here in quarantine in Japan in February, 2013

PortandTerminal.com, October 25, 2020

According to the Japanese transport ministry, a cruise ship in service last docked at a Japanese port on Feb. 26.

TOKYO – The Japan Times is reporting today that cruise ships are resuming domestic operations after long service suspensions caused by the novel coronavirus crisis.

The Nippon Maru cruise ship operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Passenger Lines Ltd. departed the port of Niihama in Ehime Prefecture on Sunday and will arrive at the port of Sasebo in Nagasaki Prefecture the following day.

Nippon Maru cruise ship
FILE PHOTO: Nippon Maru cruise ship

It is the first time for a cruise ship carrying passengers to go into service since February.

The Asuka II cruise ship operated by NYK Cruises Co. will also resume services from November.

Cruise ship operators are implementing infection prevention measures to ensure safe travel, while the transport ministry is planning to financially support infection control efforts in port facilities.

After the Nippon Maru arrives at Sasebo, passengers will visit local tourist spots, such as the Huis Ten Bosch amusement park and Kujuku islands. The cruise ship is slated to return to Niihama on Tuesday afternoon.

Although the Nippon Maru has a capacity of 530 people, the number of guests are limited to only around 200, while some 100 crew members will be on board.

Ahead of the trip, Asuka II crew members conducted a two-day drill through Wednesday to practice responding to a potential coronavirus outbreak on the ship. The members checked the steps for isolating and transporting infected passengers.

Japan’s handling of coronavirus

People wearing face masks in Tokyo’s Akihabara area
People wearing face masks in Tokyo’s Akihabara area © AFP via Getty Images

Many consider Japan’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as a “best in class” example of how to do it properly.

Japan is a densely populated country that is home to 127 million people who live small, crowded spaces — conditions seemingly ideal for the spread of the coronavirus. Japan though has had just under 99,000 infections and 1,716 deaths. That’s about the same number of infections as Kentucky which has a population of just 4.5 million people.

Japan’s figures are relatively low, it has been suggested, because the country has a culture of cleanliness, including washing hands frequently, and people bow in formal situations instead of shaking hands and do not kiss cheeks to greet friends or family.

Similarly, wearing a mask in public is a habit that has been widely practiced for over a century and appears to have its roots in religious festivals. 

As a consequence, Japanese did not bat an eyelid when medical experts stated in the early weeks of the pandemic that wearing a mask would at least reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus. 

Guidelines for safe sailing

In September, the Japan Oceangoing Passenger Ship Association and the Ports & Harbors Association of Japan compiled guidelines for infection prevention measures necessary to resume cruise ship services. The guidelines called for checking passengers’ health conditions and their travel histories in the two weeks prior to boarding. They also sought to ensure sufficient distancing among passengers, utilize contract-tracing applications and encourage the use of face masks and disinfectants.

Both the Nippon Maru and the Asuka II have adopted measures based on the guidelines. The city of Sasebo and Shizuoka Prefecture, which manage the ports of the two ships’ respective destinations, will also take coronavirus measures. Specifically, Shizuoka Prefecture will prohibit general visitors from entering the pier of Shimizu port.

The transport ministry is considering supporting infection prevention measures at passenger terminals by subsidizing costs for separating passengers, setting up body temperature measuring devices and introducing medical-use tents to house those feeling unwell.

With reporting by the Japan Times and DW

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