The environmental impact assessment process for the port expansion project might take longer than was originally anticipated, said Minister for Tourism Charles Clifford last week.
‘Initially we had estimated four months,’ he said, ‘but it’s not something that we want to put an artificial deadline on because we don’t know what they’re going to find when they begin to test.
‘We think we should allow them to take whatever time they need to complete that project and as long as it’s not something unreasonable like five years because we think that would be ridiculous.’
A memorandum of understanding was signed in July between the Cayman Islands Government, the Port Authority and property developer Atlantic Star Ltd. for the redevelopment of port facilities.
CH2MHILL, the company engaged to conduct the environmental impact assessment and the Department of Environment are now finalising the terms of reference phase. The next phase would be to start testing.
‘As a Government we’ve committed from the very beginning not to proceed with this project until a proper environmental impact assessment has been done so that’s the first step,’ said Mr. Clifford.
‘When that’s concluded it will influence things like the ultimate design of the facilities, the type of materials used in the construction, and the alignment of the piers.’
Only after the EIA was finalised would construction begin, Mr. Clifford said.
The proposed project would separate cruise and cargo facilities with the container port being moved to the north area of George Town in the vicinity of Bodden Road. The plan also calls for the building of berthing piers for four cruise ships in George Town Harbour.
With Cayman the only significant cruise port in the Caribbean without cruise berthing, local tourism groups have cited the grave need for the facilities so the island won’t be left behind other major cruise destinations.
Already cruise tourism in the Cayman Islands has been in decline from a peak of 1.9 million in 2006 to 1.55 million last year. Cruise passenger figures for the first quarter of this year have declined another 15 per cent from 2008.
Speaking about the decline, Minister Clifford said it’s a regional problem.
‘If you look across the region, in most countries cruise numbers are down,’ he said. ‘The only cases you’ll see increases are countries entering the cruise market. But in well established cruise destinations like Cayman and Jamaica and others, the numbers are declining.’
One of the primary reasons is the redeployment of ships to other regions, he said.
‘The cruise lines have deployed 14 ships in South America, which are focused on Brazil and Argentina, because those economies are doing fairly well and they see an opportunity there and a fair number of those ships are coming from Caribbean itineraries.’
Mr. Clifford also said the cruise lines have told the Caribbean as a region that its product needs to be enhanced and refreshed.
‘Because of the nature of cruise tourism . . . they need at least four stops on an itinerary so it has to be a collective regional approach to address the product issues that they are concerned about,’ he said.
‘We’ve put in place the Go East initiative that will help to spread cruise tourism more equitably through the entire country and then of course we have the physical product development side – the berthing facilities project that is underway and started with the Environmental Impact Assessment.’
Mr. Clifford said the cruise lines see the Caribbean as continuing to be a major player in cruise tourism.
He also said he believes that islands in the western Caribbean like Cayman, Jamaica and countries like Belize and Mexico will benefit from Cuba opening up to American tourists, if it occurs as expected.
‘What that will do is to give them [the cruise lines] more incentive to redeploy ships back to the Caribbean.’