Last updated: 01:28 PM ET, Wed October 28 2015

$150M Cayman Islands Cruise Port is Approved

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | October 28, 2015

$150M Cayman Islands Cruise Port is Approved

PHOTO: Moses Kirkconnell, the Cayman Islands’ tourism minister. (Courtesy of Cayman Islands tourism)

The cabinet of Alden McLaughlin, the Cayman Islands’ premier, has granted formal approval of the government’s $150 million cruise ship port plan, McLaughlin announced at a press conference Wednesday.  

“I am pleased to confirm that yesterday Cabinet formally approved the cruise berthing facility recommendations regarding project delivery so the project can now progress to the next stage,” he said.

The Cayman Islands leader acknowledged potential environmental risks associated with the controversial project, which would include dredging of coral and dive sites in Grand Cayman’s George Town harbor, where the facility would be located. Yet the cruise port is too important to the country’s future not to go ahead, said McLaughlin.

“This government is very aware that our natural environment is integral to the viability of our tourism product,” he said. “We are committed to ensuring that any berthing facility built under our watch will be done carefully and responsibly to cause the least possible environmental impact.

“But we have spent 40 years building an important cruise tourism economic driver,” said McLaughlin, “and we are duty bound to ensure that we do not sit still and allow it to move to Cuba or other destinations in the region.”

The premier added that his administration was elected on a platform that included development of a new cruise port, a project he said would ensure that “existing local jobs that cater to and depend on cruise tourism are kept intact and retained into the future.”

He said the new port will impact the livelihoods of “hundreds of Caymanian tour and taxi operators, employees of George Town merchants and restaurants, and employees of businesses of all sizes across Grand Cayman that benefit from cruise tourism.”

Furthermore, the report from project consultants PwC estimates the “positive economic impact from capital expenditure during the construction of the cruise and enhanced cargo berthing facility, over a three-year period, is estimated to be at least $156 million,” McLaughlin said. The port would be owned by the Cayman Islands upon completion and create 500 jobs during the construction period, he added.

McLaughlin said the next steps include “discussing with the cruise lines their participation in the financing” in the new port.  

The cabinet approval marks a key step in the destination’s decade-long effort to build a cruise ship terminal capable of accommodating modern cruise ships. The effort extends to previous administrations and has included several false starts.

“We are all aware that successive governments have wrestled with the provision of a cruise berthing facility and several million dollars have been spent with little to nothing to show for it,” said Moses Kirkconnell, the Cayman Islands’ deputy premier and tourism minister.

He said the current initiative has been transparent and based on best practices. “All the reports, studies and intellectual property gathered belong to the people of the Cayman Islands. Furthermore, all of the reports have been released for public review,” he said.

Kirkconnell called opposition to the controversial project “disconcerting.” Throughout the process, environmentalists, dive operators specializing in George Town harbor sites and other Cayman citizens have opposed the project, saying the projects’ impact on harbor coral beds would be devastating.

“While there is much to be proud of with respect to the process that has been followed, it has been disconcerting to see this project polarizing the community,” he said. “This is somewhat surprising considering a berthing facility has been on the cards for development in the George Town harbor for over a decade.”

Kirkconnell added, “We are fully aware our tourism product is supported by the natural beauty of our environment. Therefore we remain committed to identifying the best possible option that will deliver the most economic benefit with the least environmental harm.”

He said the government is working to secure agreements with the cruise lines on cruise passenger volumes at a completed port, which “would effectively allow the project to continue on to its next phase of development [including] issuing of tenders for the design/build aspects.”

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