Photo courtesy of the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism
After posting strong cruise passenger arrival numbers in 2015, Cayman Island government leaders are more determined than ever to proceed with construction of an often-controversial $150 million cruise ship pier and terminal. But in recognition of the environmental impact the pier will have, government officials have agreed to alter their initial plans.
According to an Environmental Economic Appraisal prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the estimated economic benefits to be derived from the port facility exceeds the environmental costs associated with the damage to the George Town coral reef.
“Notwithstanding, the Cayman Islands government agreed to have the pier designs reworked to see how a more environmentally friendly outcome could be achieved, such as moving the piers to deeper waters to minimize dredging,” said Gina Matthews, a Cayman Islands government spokesperson.
Project consultants W.F. Baird and Associates have re-worked the designs to “achieve less environmental impact,” said Matthews, and the new plans are currently under review.
Repeatedly described by Kirkconnell and Alden McLaughlin, the Cayman Islands’ premier, as critical to the destination’s tourism future, the cruise pier project has been opposed by critics that include environmentalists concerned with the project’s impact on coral beds in the harbor of George Town, the country’s capital and site of the proposed facility.
“Throughout this entire process, government’s overarching objective has been to arrive at an outcome that will deliver maximum economic benefit to the people of the Cayman Islands,” said Matthews, “with the least environmental impact to the George Town Harbour.”
The PwC report estimates the pier will cost $156 million, a price tag Mathews said will be paid largely through a partnership with a major cruise ship operator.
“The Ministry of Tourism is engaging in discussions with cruise lines to arrive at a funding model that will deliver the best possible outcome for the country,” Matthews said.
“If the Ministry is successful in reaching (an) agreement with cruise lines, we can realistically expect passenger volumes to be maintained or increased so that their investment can be recouped,” she added.
Matthews said the government is also seeking to balance its desire to expand Cayman cruise tourism while maintaining the destination’s smaller scale compared with other Caribbean destinations frequented by cruise lines.
“The business case which has guided the project from the inception caps the number of cruise passengers at 2.3 million per annum,” Matthews said, “to ensure that the quality of the cruise passenger experience is maintained and the impact to residents and stay-over visitors is manageable.”
Cruise ship arrivals in the Cayman Islands increased 6.6 percent to 1,716,812 passengers in 2015, the country’s highest total since 2007. Moses Kirkconnell, the country’s tourism minister and deputy premier, said recently the growing passenger totals indicate the need for a modern cruise ship pier and facility. In fact, of the seven Caribbean nations to host one million or more cruise ship visitors in 2015, the Cayman Islands is the only destination without a cruise ship pier and terminal capable of handling the largest vessels.