A better future for Cayman

While the FCCA Conference was a good opportunity for visiting delegates to witness first-hand what the Cayman Islands has to offer, I would like to make a few comments and pose a few questions.

First, let me acknowledge the vital role the cruise ships played in the Hurricane Ivan aftermath – and still do – both economically and as a morale booster for the Islands and our people.

I remember six to eight ships some days and this to a point was good, but now that we are out of the woods, recovery-wise so to speak, we need to return to a more manageable number of three to four per day.

Not only will this be easier to handle, but will also give the visitors a better impression of the Island and this would hopefully induce (encourage) them to return as stayover visitors.

As the new season arrives, so will more ships and this, in my opinion, will not help getting these folks to return.

Now with the soon-to-be completed Boatswain’s Beach attraction, this will help to take some pressure off the always crowded Sandbar (Stingray City). I have talked to many visitors that have been to that area and most enjoyed the experience but would not recommend it to others as it is so crowded.

The Sandbar needs to be more exclusive in that the operators move so locally owned should be getting far more dollars than they are at present.

Indeed, many only get the leftovers from the big boys and this can amount to anywhere between US$10-$15 per head.

There is too much undercutting of prices going on behind the scenes and this can only lead to continued overloading of boats, which will in turn lead to a major accident, and this will really set us back a long way.

Who is to blame for this overcrowding?

Is it the huge ships with their appetite to make more money at our expense?

Our Government for letting these people dictate to us under threat to go elsewhere?

This takes me back to the recent opening of the new Royal Watler Cruise Terminal (named after a true Caymanian pioneer) and the reported remarks made by the president of the FCCA, Michele Paige.

She praised the newly finished facility and hoped for continued cooperation with the Cayman Islands. What choice do we have under the circumstances? Did they not help fund this project?

It was also reported that the FCCA hoped to realise even greater benefits for the industry.

Does this mean even more money than they are making now? Getting bigger and fatter at our expense?

Are they concerned about our fragile environment?

I doubt that very much and the proposed new docking system may well add extra ships to anchor off shore.

I am not talking about money. Back in the early 1970s when the first cruise ship anchored in George Town, the dive industry shuddered and not just from the sound and feel of an eight- to-10-ton anchor hitting one of our best dive sites, but for what would happen in the future.

Yes, from way back in the 70s many of us saw what the future would be like. My good friend and mentor, Bob Soto, along with many others decided to help save our precious reefs by filling oil drums (cleaned first) with concrete to make permanent moorings for many of our dive sites.

Today when I dive my divers ask what these drums are that are still in place. They were very impressed that we took such a stand so many years ago.

Later (1985) our marine parks came into being. We tried to get our government of the day to put permanent moorings in place for the cruise ships, but even though anchors were either bought or donated, none were even put in place and the rest is history, folks.

Today because of the continued dropping of anchors in George Town and Spotts (during north westers) our reefs (in these areas) are beyond repair and the constant siltration goes for miles either way, depending on the currents’ direction.

With all the modern technology available today, some if not all can use GPS to keep them on station, so why is this not done? Cheaper to anchor?

Probably so as we don’t want them to lose any of their precious profit margin, now do we?

So what can we do to solve this problem? Yes we do and will continue to do so unless we fix it now. We could ask the ships to hook into re-arranging their home port departure days.

Yes, I realise they have set dates for 12-18 months down the line, but surely they can get passengers to go on other days than Sat/Sun provided they are willing to go that extra mile to explain why it is being implemented: to avoid congestion in certain population destinations.

This will give their passengers better value for their money and avoid being herded around like sheep.

One of the comments one hears in the Tourism Industry is the word traditionally (this and that) and we must continue to leave on certain days.

It’s time for more innovative ideas to replace traditional ones.

We are told that our government has a plan in the works for a cruise ship docking area. Have the public been given the chance to see or to comment on them?

Has an environmental impact study been done? I very much doubt it.

There is enough expertise on island to formulate proper long-range plans for not only cruise ships, but also plans to properly expand our present commercial dock for say the next 15 to 20 years.

One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that we must provide more than just a Band-Aid approach to our future needs.

Container ships will need to be bigger to help cut down on shipping costs, etc.

This means more accessible, deeper docks for unloading and more cargo storage areas close by for quicker turn arounds for shipping.

If we are going to spend millions of dollars, let’s make sure we have a proper, modern facility, which will serve our needs for generations to come.

Such a plan does exist as I have a copy of it, so let’s make sure we explore all the avenues before we decide on this country’s future.

Take our time to make sure the right decision is made.

In closing, we do need the cruise ship business, but do not let them decide what facilities are needed.

We must work together for the mutual benefit of all but more so what is best for the Cayman Islands.

Peter Milburn

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