Local boat captains say the recent refurbishments of local marinas are driving mooring fees up to prices they cannot afford.
At a public meeting in West Bay called by Leader of the Opposition and West Bay MLA McKeeva Bush last week, the boat captains voiced their concerns about the costs they face to moor their boats.
Mr. Bush said, “After many tries of getting facilities for North Sound boat operators, the SafeHaven facilities are moving forward. The existing problem of some boat operators is not having enough dock space and having too few options.”
“The fact is they have no facilities to use, now I understand that the SafeHaven facility is moving forward but the facility can only accommodate 26 people,” he said.
The SafeHaven site, operated by the Port Authority, had offered free mooring to 13 local boat operators for several years. Last year, amid some controversy and objections from several of the boat operators, the site was closed for renovations.
Mr. Bush said an upgrade of the SafeHaven site had been necessary.
“The facilities that those operators have been using for the last two decades in SafeHaven, I found that in 2000 it was an atrocity for our tourism industry, with garbage, and nowhere for people to use bathrooms,” he said.
Following the new additions to the marina, the Port Authority now is asking the local boat owners to pay in order to dock there. The boat owners say the prices being charged are out of their budget. “The facilities look fabulous, electric, water pump station for their holding tanks, it’s well protected, it looks like a lovely marina, a lot of money has been spent on it,” said Rod McDowell, operations manager at Red Sail Sports.
“If you run a commercial business, and you take guests out somewhere, I’ve never known anywhere where you don’t pay a fee for docking services or marina. It is just a part of the business,” he said.
Deputy chairman of the Land and Sea Co-op, Shaun Ebanks, one of the boat operators attending the meeting in West Bay, said, “SafeHaven does not have enough space for everybody so an additional marina should give enough space for all the operators to get a spot to their business and keep their boats.”
Mr. Ebanks said the co-op is in negotiations with the Port Authority to bring down the mooring price, originally proposed at more than $600 per month.
“The price that they are offering is too much for us to handle at this time so we’re trying to negotiate on ways of kind of decreasing that cost somehow,” said Mr. Ebanks.
He added that, “At the moment, they don’t have a fuel station or any type of retail shops.”
Other negotiations that are still being ironed out at SafeHaven include, electricity on the slips, retail shops, and letting the co-op have its own loading dock.
“We wanted to see the new marina [in SafeHaven] with a nice dock; we thought it was a great idea. I’m ready to move in tomorrow, but I can’t afford that price,” he said.
Other local boat operators who used docks at the Yacht Club and Morgans Harbour also raised concerns about docking fees, according to Mr. Ebanks.
“Anywhere between 40 to 50 boats, that is the amount of boats that need a dock and all of these boats are owned by the local operators,” he said.
Plans for new marina
A plot of land just south of Dolphin Cove in West Bay is among the suggested areas for a new marina being considered. However, that area also has some issues to overcome before boat operators can use it.
“The water there is too shallow. It would have to be dredged out to get boats there,” said Mr. Ebanks.
A new road would also need to be built through the land to get to the docking area. No definitive plans have been proposed in relation to that site, but Mr. Bush said a short-term solution would be needed.
“I’m hoping once again for a solution that will address the needs of the operators in the short term. But hoping also for a long-term facility that will benefit not only the cruise ship boat operators, but the general public.”
Mr. Ebanks said, “We need somewhere where we are not encroaching on any home owners, or near any developments and developers. This should have been done a long time ago. This is a growing industry with more and more Caymanians coming up in it.”
Salt Creek was another area suggested. “It’s a good spot, a perfect location, but a road would be built through it, there’s access from the water side but no access from the road side. It’s going to take some time – up to 10 years – for us to get it because of all the red tape surrounding the land,” said Mr. Ebanks.
He added, “The new place certainly wouldn’t be free, but certainly something we could afford like $250 monthly … We could also maintain the marina.
“Most of us, especially our older guys have quite enough knowledge and experience to be able to maintain their portion of the facility.”