November 19, 2013 7:00 pm JST

Cruise ships to steam into Japan World Heritage island

TSUBASA YODA, Nikkei staff writer

TOKYO -- The Tokyo Metropolitan Government will renovate port facilities on Chichijima, the biggest and most populous island in Japan's Ogasawara chain, so that large cruise ships can stop there.

     The move comes partly in response to requests from cruise ship operators. Construction is slated to end in March.

     Ever since the Ogasawara Islands were named a Unesco World Heritage site in 2011, the islands -- which are about 1,000km due south of Tokyo and administered by the capital -- have generated considerable interest as a tourist destination. However, the ports there cannot accommodate ships longer than 200 meters.

    Cruise ships visiting Chichijima must first stop along offshore mooring buoys. From there, passengers transfer to smaller boats before going ashore.

     Once the port is revamped, the 50,000-ton, 240-meter-long Asuka II, one of Japan's largest cruise ships, will be able to make calls there.

     Cruise ships visited the Ogasawara Islands six times in 2011 and 32 times in 2012, with the number of tourists jumping 25% on the year to about 35,000 in fiscal 2012. More cruise ship traffic will have a big impact on the local economy, given that air travel is not possible and the only regular services to the islands are ferries that run once a week.

     While the islands may get an economic boost from more visitor traffic, the natural environment there may suffer. Aware of this possibility, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government limits the number of people who can go to the islands and require all visitors to be accompanied by tour guides.

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