An argument for cruise berthing facilities

To view the full special report from the Cayman Compass on the cruise dock debate, visit the Compass Data Desk. 

The group Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future comprises representatives of several different types of businesses and occupations that include, but are not limited to: merchants that serve tourists in George Town, West Bay, the airport and elsewhere; tour bus and water sports operators that serve visitors arriving by both cruise and air; other ground transport providers; land-based tourist attractions; real estate developers; the producer of Cayman’s most popular souvenir; photography services to tourists; and shipping, marine engineering, and other such enterprises for which cruise passengers comprise a significant portion of their clientele or business interests.

Their business activities are widespread in and around the island and in some cases internationally. Collectively they employ many hundreds of Caymanians and have tens of millions of dollars invested in infrastructure, systems, inventories and people to provide high-quality services to visitors.

Each of their businesses are dependent on cruise passenger arrivals. They have many years experience on cruise-related matters, and they also have years of experience of direct commercial relations with cruise line representatives. These tourism leaders adhere to a strict ethos that demands intellectual honesty in discussion, debate, and published statements. As a result, Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future makes several statements that are inconvenient truths for those who want to deny Cayman the opportunity of implementing the cruise berthing facility to protect and enhance our nation’s cruise tourism industry and the employment and income opportunities that come with it.

Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future understands and appreciates the large impacts of cruise tourism to the well-being and future prospects of Cayman’s economy, ecology, employment and other social implications. It firmly believes and expects that the legislators who will shortly be making the decision as to whether or not to proceed with the cruise berthing facility must consider the pros and cons carefully in each of three dimensions – economic, environmental and social – and in so doing, fully weigh this project’s likely impact on major factors that are so essential to the future success of our nation.

The cruise berthing facility will be the largest single infrastructure project ever undertaken by our nation’s government. Of all the factors that are within the power and control of the people and government of the Cayman Islands, it will very likely be the largest single determinant of the future prospects for cruise tourism here. The stakes are very high. It has the potential to produce huge economic upsides. If it is not done carefully and deliberately it could have painful environmental downsides. And in the social dimension, the decision as to whether or not to proceed with creating and operating the cruise berthing facility has massive social implications of either creating or destroying hundreds of job opportunities for Caymanians against the backdrop of the current 7.9 percent unemployment of Caymanians.

Socioeconomic considerations 

The outline business case produced by PricewaterhouseCoopers highlights the main potential beneficial economic impacts for proceeding with the cruise berthing facility.

It shows clearly that the project makes good economic sense. In the social dimension it shows that the potential employment impact of implementing the cruise berthing facility ranges from an additional 999 full-time equivalents or more, in other words a likely net positive employment impact of somewhere around a thousand or more additional full-time jobs in Cayman’s economy.

The gaping hole filled with rubbish 

The environmental impact assessment as expressed in the full environmental statement quantifies the potential risks and worst-case potential outcomes in regard to environmental impacts of the construction and operation of the cruise berthing facility. However Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future is concerned because a large section of the environmental statement has been deliberately withheld and hidden from the public debate, a major deficiency of information necessary to enable well-informed, balanced decisions regarding the environmental dimensions. Considering that this study cost more than $2 million and the terms of reference included this component, we consider it imperative that the current draft be released as part and parcel of the public review process. We do not believe it is in the public interest for the Environmental Assessment Board to withhold from the public such an essential part of this consultancy for which we paid dearly.

It is our understanding that the consultants (Baird) have already produced a full draft of the entire environmental statement. For some vague, convoluted rationale which we do not agree with, the Environmental Assessment Board deliberately removed “Section III – Environmental Management Plan” from the full environmental statement document that has been shown to the public, and it does not appear likely that they have any intention of revealing that plan any time soon. So whereas the “Section III – Environmental Management Plan” is listed in the table of contents of the environmental statement as starting on page 386, all that we and the rest of the general public have been permitted to see so far is a single page, which contains only five words: the title “Section III – Environmental Management Plan.”

As so often happens when failure to properly communicate creates a void, the information vacuum that the Environmental Assessment Board has deliberately left vacant, has unfortunately been filled with huge, emotionally charged arguments, with prejudices and misinformation fueling strenuous, passionate efforts to block any further progress on the cruise berthing facility. This has energized several opponents of the cruise berthing facility to even malign anyone who now tries to talk good sense in regard to responsibly resolving the environmental concerns while proceeding with the development of the cruise berthing facility. Therefore it should come as no surprise that the partial environmental statement presented to the public, absent the entire Section III on risk mitigation and other environmental management planning, has resulted in lopsided reactions from environmentalists and others in opposition to the cruise berthing facility. This lack of transparency has scared countless citizens of the prospects of irreversible damage to our stunningly beautiful underwater creatures and scenery as described in Sections I and Sections II as the worst-case scenario, identified in the published draft environmental statement.

Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future has been researching and informing itself and the public of the practical methods and feasible infrastructure to responsibly address the environmental concerns while enabling the project to proceed. We have been discovering realistic mitigation methods by conducting discussions and communications with persons and companies that have a wealth of knowledge and experience on these matters, and through our social media channels and our website we have been sharing and proposing many of these solutions.

Nevertheless Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future is calling on the Environmental Assessment Board to reconsider immediately and as a matter of urgency to promptly release to the public the environmental management plan that has already been drafted and provided to them by the consultants (Baird). Only then will the general public and elected representatives have the opportunity to fully consider the practicalities of the methods Baird proposed to mitigate
or eliminate the environmental risks their environmental impact assessment highlighted as “worst-case,” and only then will we have the opportunity to evaluate the thoroughness and appropriateness of Baird’s proposals in that regard.

Potential additional evaluation of impacts in the social dimension 

The website of the consultant (Baird) who won the bid to produce the environmental impact assessment characterizes the company’s competence as “water engineering” including “from planning, to science, to design and construction … complex engineering projects.”

With those credentials we believe that Baird should be capable of identifying and evaluating the environmental risk factors and the practical means and methods to mitigate those risks. However in regard to credentials, competence, expertise and experience in the depth of socioeconomic analysis and synthesis that this project rightly deserves, we do not consider Baird is necessarily the best equipped consultant to conduct such an exercise; nor are they the only such information resource available to the government.

For one example of alternative information resources available on socioeconomic considerations, the Cayman Islands Tourism Association conducted a survey of its members that included some elements of social impacts in regard to employment mix, by collating inputs from tourism industry employers as to the numbers and proportions of employees in various categories and split into various tourism industry sectors. To date CITA has not published those details of the survey results. We would encourage the Ministry of Tourism to broker arrangements between the CITA and statisticians in government’s Economics & Statistics Unit to derive and analyze as much useful information as possible from the survey to inform government’s decision-making.

In regard to socioeconomic impacts, Baird provided various aspects that relate to impacts on companies and people in and around the area of the George Town harbor, but provided little or no commentary in regard to national employment prospects for an industry that, according to PwC studies, has the potential to grow employment by at least some 999 full-time employees in the conservative “base case.” The figures for economic impact in the “upside base case” imply that number could increase to well over 4,000 full-time employees. Those potential additional employment numbers are huge in the scale of Cayman’s current socioeconomic situation. They could represent a massive reduction in the 1,562 Caymanians and 298 non-Caymanians who are presently unemployed. No elected representative in their right mind can ignore the tragic implications of rejecting the opportunity for such a large increase in employment opportunities and resultant income and economic impacts that, as the PwC study puts it particularly for cruise tourism, “are widely dispersed into the local economy.”

That observation by PwC of the economic impact of cruise tourism being more widely dispersed as to compared with stay-over tourism is consistent with Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future’s observations of anecdotal evidence comparing analysis of categories of employees in the cruise sector versus the stay-over sector. Several of Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future’s supporters who also responded to the recent CITA survey, polled directors to provide the breakdown of respondent employees into three categories: Caymanian/Caymanian status; permanent resident/married to Caymanian; and work permit holders.

It will be interesting to see the results of the survey, to compare the average composition of tourism-related companies that agreed with cruise berthing, versus the average composition of tourism-related companies that opposed cruise berthing, especially in regard to their relative percentages of Caymanian employees.

In summary whereas there has been a lot of analysis and discussion on the economic and environmental dimensions, Baird provided very little substantial evidence-based analysis and synthesis of impacts in the social dimension, especially in regard to the hugely impactful aspect of employment of Caymanians on a national scale, whereas the PwC’s outline business case highlights the huge employment benefits the cruise berthing facility could have in Cayman.

Deficiencies in arguments of the Save Cayman campaign 

Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future believes that the main problems with what the Save Cayman opponents have been saying and publishing can be summarized as follows:
The Save Cayman group’s concerns and arguments are very heavily one-dimensional – “environment, environment, environment” – and myopic. There are existing risks and actual damage of operating cruise tourism without having proper cruise berthing facilities, such as anchor drags and occasional instances of ships running aground, infrequent but real occurrences and the consequences for our coral reefs can be devastating. Their statements contain little or no in-depth analysis of the socioeconomic factors and their behaviors reveal little or no concern for ensuring employment and income prospects for Caymanians in the tourism industry, and similar disregard for the economic impact that a decline in cruise passenger arrivals would have.

The Save Cayman innuendo implies that it is the cruise lines selfishly dictating to Cayman that we must build cruise berthing here. That is another false accusation revealing ignorance of the realities of the industry: the cruise lines are simply reflecting the realities of how they have to run their businesses to meet the expectations and preferences of their customers.

The Save Cayman group appears to be closed-minded in refusing to admit that there are possibilities for very effective mitigation of environmental risks and practical designs of various mitigation methodologies, a few of which have been identified in the environmental statement, section 16.6 – “Proposed Mitigation Measures.” The Save Cayman group is making exaggerated statements based on the false assumption that the “worst case scenario” images and forecasts of reef damage are inevitable.

They suppress the inconvenient truth that there are several different mitigation measures that can be implemented to prevent or at least greatly minimize the risks the environmental statement highlighted. In their attempts to rally people to their cause, Save Cayman falsely portrays inevitability that huge swaths of popular dive sites will all die, with emotionally charged statements such as “the Plume of Death,” “the Red Zone indicates the potential for levels of silt at concentrations with near certain deadly consequences for corals,” “The northern red [bulge] is adjacent to Treasure Island resort, the southern is Don Foster’s … .”

The choice to be made 

Based on all the research, analysis, and multiple contacts with cruise lines and marine engineering experts to date, the Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future group believes that the choice to be made is realistically one of two options as derived and further described by PwC in the outline business case:
If we build a cruise berthing facility in Grand Cayman (with responsible application of environmental risk mitigation techniques), in which case tendering would be used for only a few cruise ships occasionally, then the number of cruise visitors per annum would likely eventually increase to 2.3 million, and would result in higher per visitor spend and a higher crew spend. The additional employment this would generate amounts to some 999 additional full-time employees in the conservative base case scenario and that number would likely increase dramatically in the upside base case scenario.

If we do not build a cruise berthing facility in Grand Cayman and we maintain tendering for all cruise ships, then the number of cruise visitors per annum would likely eventually decline to 1 million, and would result in similar or lower per visitor spend and
lower crew spend. As PwC put it in the outline business case, if we attempt to get by with simply fixing up the existing cruise terminal facilities “cruise tourism business will decline over time as cruise lines either stop calling on Cayman or only call with older, smaller ships.” Worse yet, our nation would forego the opportunity to create a thousand (or possibly more) additional “widely dispersed” jobs and instead would face the prospect of hundreds of job losses given the huge decline in passenger levels from the current 1.7 million cruise visitors per annum.

Our nation’s elected political representatives are the ones who will have to eventually make a decision on whether or not to proceed with the development of cruise berthing facilities in Grand Cayman. In order for them to make wise choices in those decisions, they should insist on being fully and accurately informed on the relevant facts and forecasts in three main dimensions: economic, environmental, and social. To ignore the pros and cons in either of those three dimensions would put Cayman’s future prospects in peril.

We are confident that if the legislators are properly informed, they will correctly decide to proceed with the cruise berthing facility and to do so responsibly in respect of minimizing environmental damage and managing our environmental resources. We are confident that it will prove to have been one of the most important and positively impactful initiatives ever undertaken in the development of our nation and we look forward to continuing our liaison with the government, the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association and other stakeholders to craft the most beneficial outcomes for all concerned.

The content of this article is endorsed by:
Timothy Adam
Ronnie Anglin
Brynley Davies
Capt. Robert Hamaty
Christopher Kirkconnell
Gene Thompson

To view the full special report from the Cayman Compass on the cruise dock debate, visit the Compass Data Desk. 

Cruise ships could bring as many as 2.3 million visitors to Cayman every year.

Cruise ships could bring as many as 2.3 million visitors to Cayman every year. Photo: Chris Court

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  1. For disclosure, I am on the against side but only against the current design with the environmental impacts it has on both George Town Harbour and up and down the coast.

    In the report, I took the missing section "Environmental Management Plan" as being one that has not been developed yet as opposed to purposely withheld. I admit the references are confusing.

    Neither this article nor the EIA report illustrates where the mitigation plans have been successful in the well established practice of dredging while there are many examples, like Miami, where they have failed.

    Lastly, my perception of those against the pier is only in its present form and not no pier. I believe the authors of this article are trying to polarize the conversation.