Today’s Editorial January 04: Berthing facility needed

Based on eyewitness reports to Wednesday’s tendering chaos in George Town Harbour, Cayman should consider itself lucky.

Small tender craft bouncing around, offloading passengers in heavy surf while banging into cruise ships and piers could have easily led to disaster.

A cold front moved in a little earlier than expected, bringing with it a shift in winds and rough seas in the harbour. Everyone knew the cold front was coming, but everyone also wanted to see the ships make their call on Grand Cayman. There was a lot at stake; for the Port Authority; for Cayman’s businesses; and for the cruise passengers themselves.

And the morning was beautiful.

But Mother Nature cannot always be counted on to be predictable and some of the cruisers got a ride they won’t soon forget.

Of course, much of the problem could have been avoided if Grand Cayman had berthing facilities for cruise ships.

The Minister of Tourism Charles Clifford announced nearly two years ago that berthing facilities for four ships would be constructed on Grand Cayman. A site was announced at George Town harbour in June 2006, and Mr. Clifford said the project was moving into the design phase.

Last August, some 14 months later, Port Authority Chairman Wayne Panton said the drawings for the new berthing facility were still not finalised, but that he hoped a contract would be signed soon.

That is where the situation stands now – at least as far as the public knows. A private sector organisation has even been formed in the interim to try to fast track the construction of a berthing pier.

There are many possible reasons why the cruise berthing facility project has stalled, but it is time it moves forward – and quickly.

If we value cruise tourism and want to at least maintain the current arrival numbers, then we must build a berthing facility. Not only would it make the cruise lines happy, it would make the cruise passengers visiting our country happy. Even more passengers would venture off their comfortable ships onto our shores. Plus they’d have more time to explore and spend money, so even our merchants will be happy.

Of course, having berthing facilities will make it safer for everyone.

The safety issue it is not just about the financial liability that cruise lines, the Port Authority or the tendering company might face if someone gets injured or killed in a tendering accident; it is the reputation of the Cayman Islands as a tourism destination. And that is something we can ill-afford to have damaged.

Considering what happened in the harbour on Wednesday, we should be counting our lucky stars and not the revenues lost by the bad weather.