The Explorer Dream (探索夢號) cruise ship yesterday set sail from Keelung Port on a four-day trip to Penghu and Kinmen in a first for the cruise industry in Asia since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and only the second such excursion worldwide.
A German vessel, the TUI’s Mein Schiff 2, set sail from Hamburg late on Friday night on a three-night North Sea cruise, beating Taiwan to the industry bragging rights.
Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) and Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) attended a news conference in Keelung to launch the Explorer Dream’s voyage.
Photo: Ann Wang, Reuters
Chen, who also heads the nation’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), said that while people want to travel abroad, easing the nation’s travel restrictions must be done cautiously and “step by step.”
The quarantine measures taken to prepare for the ship’s departure were of an extremely high standard, with 50 of the more than 500 crew members quarantined on the ship and tested for COVID-19 on the seventh and 14th days of their quarantine, while the rest were quarantined ashore, Chen told reporters.
Those in the second group all tested negative for COVID-19 on the 14th day, and then practiced self-health management for another seven days after boarding the ship, he said.
Photo: Lin Hsin-han, Taipei Times
CECC officials had boarded the ship over the past few days to ensure proper disease prevention measures were being taken, he said.
A mask should be worn if social distance cannot be maintained, he said, adding that if a passenger shows symptoms, they would be placed in isolation, and once the ship docks, they would disembark and be quarantined immediately.
Island-hopping cruises would offer the public a travel experience similar to going abroad, and an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of Taiwan from the sea, Chen said, adding that every Taiwanese should do so once in their life.
The island-hopping cruise — operated by Genting Hong Kong Ltd’s (雲頂香港) Dream Cruises — was made possible with the efforts of many people, and was an important “first” sail, Lin said, adding: “The whole world is watching.”
The ship is carrying 1,200 passengers, compared with its normal capacity of 3,630, and would stop in Penghu and Matsu before returning to Keelung on Wednesday.
The Mein Schiff 2 faced similar restrictions, with occupancy limited to 60 percent, but reports said the ship sailed with 1,200 passengers compared with its 2,900 capacity.
It headed toward Norway, but passengers were to spend the weekend at sea with no land stops before returning to Hamburg.
Dream Cruises said it would offer 30 island-hopping trips over the next three months, taking passengers to Hualien and Kinmen County on four to five-day trips, each limited to no more than 1,815 passengers.
Meanwhile, industry sources said international cruise lines are vying for a piece of the domestic market, with Costa Cruises reportedly interested in an island-hopping itinerary with its Costa Serena.
However, the Maritime and Port Bureau yesterday said Costa Cruises has not filed a formal request.
A Ministry of Transportation and Communications official said that the government would wait for the Explorer Dream’s voyage to be completed, and everything to go smoothly, before allowing a second cruise ship to start offering trips.
If a shipboard COVID-19 outbreak were to occur, the burden on the nation’s medical resources would be significant, so Costa Cruises has been told that the earliest it would be able to operate a cruise would be early September, they said.
A travel industry source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said quarantine requirements mean that it might not be cost-effective for international cruise lines to offer island-hopping itineraries around Taiwan at this time.
The German cruise line AIDA is planning its first departure since the pandemic from Hamburg on Aug. 5, followed by a second on Aug. 12 from Rostock and a third on Aug. 16 from Kiel, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.
Additional reporting by AP and CNA
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