(CMR) With the latest Tourism Department figures showing a bumper year for cruise ship passenger arrivals in 2018, surpassing the trend of steadily increasing annual figures, the Leader of the Opposition the Hon. Ezzard Miller has expressed concerns about the lack of information on interim arrangements for processing of passengers should the cruise port project materialize as proposed.
At the same time, Mr. Miller hastened to underscore that
“the Opposition absolutely opposes the cruise port project, fully expects the referendum will be supported by the required number of signatures, and firmly believes that the opposition to the port project will win when the referendum is put to the vote.”
However, Mr. Miller said it was important to call attention to “yet another aspect of Government’s failure to communicate” that could add to what he views as “another potentially serious consequence”:
“So far,” Mr. Miller elaborated, “Government has said nothing about how they plan to mitigate the impact of the dredging and complex construction activities for the proposed cruise ship port on the disembarkation, processing and return of passengers to ships, as well as passengers’ ease of access to landside recreational arrangements,” Mr. Miller said, adding: “How that management aspect that could have markedly adverse impacts on the future of the industry will be addressed has to be a concern for the industry and the population as a whole and should be addressed.”
Continuing, Mr. Miller said: “At the very least, we need an explanation by Government on how the disembarkation and re-boarding of passengers will be handled over the two-to-three years of works—if the project sees the light of day.”
In the meantime, Mr. Miller continues to refute the key argument advanced for the necessity for the port—that tendering is not feasible for the debarking and re-boarding of passengers, especially for the larger ships.
“It is clear that cruise passengers continue to be successfully tendered, an arrangement that will apply when one of the largest cruise ships in the world, the 5,700-passenger mega ship, anchors in Cayman waters in December as scheduled, Mr. Miller said.
“The trend of the increasing numbers of cruise-ship passenger arrivals and the tendering of the mammoth ship later this year,” Mr. Miller said, “undermine Government’s argument that tendering poses an overwhelming threat to the continued wellbeing of the cruise industry.”
As for any claim that dockside disembarkation of cruise passengers is more efficient than ferrying passengers by tender, Mr. Miller referenced the 11 August 2015 Environmental Assessment Board’s review of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) undertaken by W. F. Baird and Associates, consultants commissioned by the Government.
On page 20 of the board’s review, under the heading of “Tendering vs. berthing,” the board reported that the EIA had considered “two scenarios for disembarkation rates, one with four Carnival Magic-sized vessels at berth and, a second, with two Carnival Magic-sized vessels and two Oasis-sized vessels at berth.”
The board reported that the EIA had concluded on page 310 “that for both of these scenarios, the disembarkation rates with cruise berthing facility is within the range of passenger-disembarkation rates achieved with tendering, i.e., cruise berthing will not result in a quicker rate of disembarkation.”
In addition, the EIA noted that passengers disembarking at berth would have longer walking distances, ranging “from approximately 1,200 to 1,800 feet, as compared to approximately 450 feet with existing tender operation.”
Another disadvantage from cruise berthing identified by the EIA and reported by the board, is the “lag time which can result from the berthing of cruise ships.” Mr. Miller nevertheless went on to clarify that he is as much in support of the cruise industry as he is of the stay-over visitor sector, but he was concerned that scarce investment resources be placed where the returns would be of greatest value to the people of the Cayman Islands.
This was specially so, he said, “given that berthing will not add any additional time on shore—but could actually reduce shore time—which is mainly what cruise passengers care most about.”
With regard to the business case for investing so massively in the cruise port despite these disadvantages, Mr. Miller pointed to the latest available statistics that show that revenue from stay-over passengers continue the long-established trend of exceeding by far the spend by cruise passengers: The latest estimate of cruise passengers’ annual spending is US$199.9 million, compared to US$680 million for stay-over visitors, a ratio of more than one to three, respectively.
At the same time, “There is no question that we do want to protect the cruise industry,” Mr. Miller said, adding that another serious consequence of “this risky project is a scenario that mismanagement could result in cruise ships deciding to reroute to bypass Cayman, with its potential for an eventual decline in Cayman’s cruise industry,” Mr. Miller said.
“While the Opposition remains opposed to the project and do not believe it will become a reality, the lack of information on the interim management for the disembarking and re-boarding of cruise passengers is definitely another big concern joining all the others, including costs, and environmental and business impacts,” Mr. Miller said. “It would be really ironic that the costliest investment resulted in the gravest of consequences.”