Clifford tours berthing facilities

Panama City PANAMA – Minister of Tourism Charles Clifford toured two cruise ship berthing facilities in Panama last Wednesday to get ideas for similar facilities planned for the Cayman Islands.

Eastern Panama port

Port of Cristobal Administrator Mariano Sosa, left, explains to Minister of Tourism Charles Clifford and Deputy Permanent Secretary Samuel Rose details of the berthing facilities at the eastern Panama port during a tour there on Wednesday. Photo: Alan Markoff

After travelling across Panama by train, Mr. Clifford was first taken to Colon 2000 to view an eight-year-old facility that can presently accommodate only one cruise ship, but which is in the process of being expanded. He then toured the 353-acre Port of Cristobal facility, which combines cargo and cruise berthing facilities and can accommodate more than a dozen ships at one time.

Both facilities were funded by the private sector, with government giving long-term concessions to port management companies.

Mr. Clifford said he found the tours very worthwhile.

‘What struck me the most was that although [the Port of Cristobal] is on a much larger scale, what they’ve done is what we are planning to do.’

Mr. Clifford was referring specifically to the private-public partnership arrangements.

In January of this year, Mr. Clifford announced in the Legislative Assembly that the People’s Progressive Movement government had made the decision to separate the cruise berthing facility from the cargo facility. He also revealed that negotiations had begun with ‘at least two’ stakeholder investors.

Mr. Clifford said his tour of the Panama cruise facility reinforced his belief that a private-public arrangement was the only way to move forward.

‘The more and more we travel around, the more we see that governments can’t afford to build these kinds of things,’ he said.

The Colon 2000 facility is on government land that is leased on a 40-year concession arrangement that allow the managing company to derive income from a variety of sources, including a $5.10 per passenger landing fee, duty free retail stores, restaurants and tours. Still, because of the high costs in building the facility, Aventuras 2000 Director Augusto Terrancina said it was very difficult to be profitable right now.

‘We did it with our own resources though, so we’re not paying any bank interest,’ he said, adding that it is only because of his company’s tour operations that it can break even.

Colon 2000 received no funding at all from the cruise lines to build the facility, but Mr. Terrancina said the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association did help out a lot in coordinating the specifications of the project.

With the expansion of the Colon 2000 facility, which will turn it into a home port for the Royal Caribbean International cruise line, Mr. Terrancina believes the facility will finally become more profitable.

A Radisson hotel and casino is also being built on the site as part of the expansion.

Port of Cristobal on the other hand has enormous cargo facilities – which can accommodate the unloading of five vessels simultaneously – to allow it to be profitable. It also has restaurants, duty free stores and tours. But only four ships call on the port per week during the October through March high season, with only occasional ships calling other times of the year.

One thing that Mr. Clifford noticed about Cristobal’s indoor shopping village was that it had duty free shopping and local crafts under the same roof.

As far as how Cayman will proceed with funding the construction of its proposed cruise berthing and cargo facilities, Mr. Clifford said many of the details are not yet worked out.

‘We don’t know what the financial model will look like yet, but it will be significantly funded by the private sector,’ he said.

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