Japan looks to cruise ships for Olympics
The Japanese government is finalizing a plan to allow large cruise ships to be used as hotels to alleviate the expected shortage of accommodation facilities during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, according to sources.
Government officials will carefully examine relevant regulations, including the Inns and Hotels Law, and establish the necessary legal framework to smooth the way for cruise ships from Japan and abroad to make longterm stays in Tokyo Bay and operate as hotels during the Games.
The government hopes using hotel ships during the Olympics will enable such a system to become established and open the door to it being used during emergencies and other major events.
The Port of Tokyo and the Port of Yokohama are considered the leading candidates for where the cruise ships would be moored. The Port of Tokyo has three wharves capable of mooring a cruise ship weighing 50,000 tons or more that can accommodate more than 1,000 people, and the Port of Yokohama has six such wharves. According to the sources, multiple ships could drop anchor at these ports for an extended period during the Games.
The government also will examine whether the Port of Kawasaki and Kisarazu Port in Chiba Prefecture could meet the needs of cruise ship operators and local governments. The government plans to also allow Japanese residents to stay on the ships, rather than limiting their use to Games officials and foreign visitors.
If cruise ships are deemed to be hotels, their compliance with relevant laws and regulations will become an issue. For example, the current Inns and Hotels Law has no clear provision stipulating whether these ships would need a business license. The Immigration Control Law contains an exceptional measure allowing foreign crew members to land for a period not exceeding 15 days, but if these crew were considered hotel employees, they would fall outside the law. Serving meals prepared on board to people other than passengers would require an import license under the Customs Law.
In 1989, the Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner, which could accommodate 1,770 people, stayed for 65 days during the Yokohama Exotic Showcase. Despite this domestic precedent, “The legal interpretation of that time is vague,” a government official said.
On Thursday, the Cabinet Secretariat, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry and other relevant government bodies set up a working group to consider legal revisions and establishing necessary legal interpretations, and to discuss making the “hotel ship plan” a reality. Representatives from about 10 major travel agencies and cruise ship operators were to join the group as observers. The group also was to consider how passengers would access Olympic sporting venues and how to respond to crimes and fires on board the ships. It will compile concrete measures possibly by the end of this year.
Hotel ships have often been used during Olympic Games in recent times. Three cruise ships were moored for between 34 and 38 days during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, providing a total of 190,000 nights of accommodation during that period. Cruise ships also were used during the 2012 London, 2014 Sochi and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, and there have been growing calls from domestic and international business operators to allow ships to make long-term stays during the Tokyo Games.
A police officer walks past the the Silver Cloud cruise ship at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, last August.