(CNS): Just over three years ago the previous administration was in talks with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines to tender the Allure of the Seas, one of the cruise firm’s largest ships, debunking the myth that the mega class of ships cannot tender. Correspondence released following an FOI request by members of the Save Cayman campaign, which is trying to prevent the destruction of the George Town reefs to make way for concrete piers so the larger ships can berth, reveals that the ships could still tender and that the local firms and government were prepared to make the necessary security investment and tender upgrades.
Email exchanges that took place in December 2011 and January 2012 indicate that the cruise lines and CIG were talking about the details and the upgrades that would be required to start tendering the Allure of the Seas that year. A presentation was also made to the cruise line by the local tender firms regarding upgrades and commitments on the number of tenders to service the ships, as Caribbean Marine and government were making arrangements to provide the necessary security upgrades at the Royal Watler and the necessary housing, which was estimated to cost less than three quarters of a million dollars.
The current government and the pro-port movement continues to state the misinformation that the larger ships cannot tender. They argue that, since the mega ships are expected to dominate the regional cruise market in future, Grand Cayman must have piers, otherwise not only will cruise business fail to grow but the island will eventually be dropped from all itineraries. But the emails demonstrate that the issue of tendering is a matter of choice. The large ships, like any other, can be tendered and a permanent anchor spot found to accommodate them.
However, as he delivered the news last week that, despite the massive and irreversible destruction of the reef, the government was pressing ahead with the port construction plans, the premier again stated that without the piers the cruise ships will stop coming.
Campaigners who want to see government take a different approach to maintaining cruise business in Cayman have pushed the idea of tender upgrades and the local tender firm is willing to invest in whatever upgrades are necessary if the government drops the berthing plans. Caribbean Marine Services said that it has been waiting for government’s decision regarding cruise berthing for eight years, which has posed problems for future investment.
“CMS cannot invest heavily knowing that the business is going to close,” a spokesperson told CNS. “In the past eight years CMS has continued to upgrade its service where it can, with the introduction of camera systems, top deck loading systems, ship hook up points and more environmentally sound propulsion systems.”
In the absence of a decision regarding the future of cruise berthing versus tendering, the firm has been reluctant to go further but can easily accommodate the needs of the large ships. The problem is that the government must enter into negotiations with the cruise lines over the issue. CMS explained that in 1999 cruise lines were insisting that their new ships could not tender but each time they returned to Cayman with these very ships when they realised the firms could meet their needs.
CMS also stated that if government could negotiate for improved and secure tendering for an investment of some $10 million instead of the hundreds of millions cruise berthing will cost, the larger ships could still come.
The tender firms also say that with double-deck loading the ships can be tendered speedily and warn that cruise berthing is still no guarantee that passengers will remain on shore any longer or spend more. The cruise ships’ logs show that even in ports with piers, ships stay no longer than eight or nine hours — the same time many ships already spend in Cayman.
As well as time spent in port, there are a list of factors that impact how much cruise passengers spend, including the order in which ships call on ports, the prices at each destination, and what activities passengers plan at certain ports. Therefore, campaigners argue, concrete piers do not guarantee any increase in expenditure per head.
Based on their own research, the Save Cayman campaign warns that ports with piers allow passengers to get back on the ships without waiting for a tender, so they are less likely to eat on shore, which could result in them spending less in local restaurants. The campaign found some 60% of cruisers return to the ship for lunch in some destinations with piers.