Government gives green light to George Town cruise dock


Plans for a new cruise port in George Town harbor will move forward, Premier Alden Mclaughlin announced Wednesday afternoon. 

Mr. McLaughlin said government had considered the environmental and economic implications and agreed to allow the project to proceed to the next stage. 

“The decision to be made is not whether we want to build cruise berthing, it is whether we want to remain in the cruise business in any significant way,” he said. 

“The decision is whether many hundreds of people and families who today rely on jobs created as a result of cruise tourism have those jobs next year and in the years to come.” 

He said negotiations would now take place with cruise lines and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to agree on designs for the port, as well as a financing model for the project, which has an estimated minimum cost of $150 million. 

Mr. McLaughlin said the financing model would seek to ensure cruise lines have “major skin in the game” to guarantee passenger volumes over the financing period. 

The announcement, at the Chamber of Commerce’s legislative luncheon, follows months of public debate in the wake of an environmental impact assessment highlighting the level of destruction of coral reefs in the proposed construction area, as well as the knock-on effect on adjacent reefs. 

Keith Sahm, one of the leaders of the Save Cayman anti-port campaign, said the decision was disappointing. 

“It was not unexpected, but I think it is a sad day for the country,” he said. “Once they do this, there is no turning back.” 

Chris Kirkconnell, of rival campaign group Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future, welcomed the news, saying he was pleased government had looked at the “whole picture” and decided to push ahead with the project. 

He said he felt the decision was “touch and go” for several months. 

Mr. McLaughlin, in his speech at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, said government had considered the environmental impact assessment as well as the final business case, which has yet to be publicly released. 

“We as a government have been called upon by the proponents and opponents of the cruise dock to decide on protecting the environment or protecting the economy. Life is seldom so cut and dry, but we believe our approach will find the right balance,” he said. 

He acknowledged that the environmental impact assessment had indicated damage to reef structures in the “immediate vicinity” of the harbor, but said the study also indicated there would be no impact on Seven Mile Beach. 

“That was a major concern that has now been put to rest,” he said. 

Cabinet has yet to formalize its decision on the project, Mr. McLaughlin said. He told guests at the Chamber lunch that government has “agreed on the merits of building a cruise port and enhanced cargo port.” 

Environment Minister Wayne Panton was off island on vacation when the announcement was made Wednesday and could not be reached for comment. 

Mr. McLaughlin said in his speech that government would take into account the mitigation measures put forward in the environmental report. 

“There will not be [dredging] in George Town harbor tomorrow or next week or next month. We will proceed carefully and seek to do whatever it takes to ensure minimum environmental impact.” 

Mr. McLaughlin added that Cayman had spent 40 years building its cruise industry and had to protect it. 

“The project will not only help safeguard our important cruise business into the future, it will also enlarge our cargo port and protect existing jobs and bring many new jobs in the project phase, leading to many hundreds of jobs well into the future.” 

He added, “I have heard what those who worry about the environmental impact have said, but one thing is certain in my mind, economic benefits aside, if we continue to anchor cruise ships in George Town harbor as we have done these past 40 years, in a decade or two there will be very little coral there for anybody to enjoy or argue about.” 

Supporters of the cruise dock have argued that it will allow larger ships, which do not use tenders, to come to Cayman and will also mean more time on shore for cruise visitors, leading to more spending. They say Cayman is the only island in the region without a port, and not in the process of building one, and suggest that unless the project goes ahead, cruise numbers will decline. 

Mr. Kirkconnell, also vice president of operations at Kirk Freeport, added that there are still obstacles to overcome before the project is guaranteed to get off the ground. 

“It is a step towards a cruise berthing facility, but there is still a lot of work to be done. We need to make sure it is done in the right way and everything that can be done to protect the environment is done,” he said. 

Statistics from other jurisdictions, he said, suggest that Cayman would see a surge in economic benefit from the port, greater than the PwC business case report indicated. 

Mr. Sahm, general manager of Sunset House, said he was not convinced by the economic arguments and feels the decision, prior to the release of the PwC final business case, is premature. 


Premier Alden McLaughlin announces that the Cayman Islands government intends to move ahead with plans to build a cruise ship dock in George Town harbor. – PHOTO: BRENT FULLER


Cruise ships currently moor off George Town and passengers take tender boats to shore. The Cayman Islands government has announced it will move ahead with plans to build a cruise ship berthing dock in the harbor. – Photo: File

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  1. I applaud our government, not just for this decision but for committing to take on and solve the dump, airport and many other issues.

    This government without a doubt is a government of action.

    Many others have talked the talk but few ever walked the walk.

    This vital piece of the Cayman economic puzzle is greatly needed.

    Mr Premier, you will get blow back from the environmental advocates but please know myself and MANY other Caymanians stand behind you today and in 2017.

    Keep up the good work and keep pushing for Cayman.

  2. What I find interesting in the announcement is how little the Premier actually said. There is some pretty impressive rhetoric but not much real content.

    This is still subject to agreement with the cruise lines (you have to wonder why they were not consulted earlier), approval from the FCO and of course funding. Of those three funding is likely to be the biggest problem because, despite the comments above, the tourism market is too volatile to expect cruise lines to make major financial commitments to anything they do not actually own or control.

    Another aspect that has been conveniently bypassed is the disruption that will be caused by the build. This dock will not miraculously spring up overnight so what happens to cruise arrivals and businesses in GT during a construction period of possibly two years?

    If you add into that mess the inevitable litigation that will soon kick off I doubt much progress will be made on this for at least a year, by which time these islands will be moving into the run up to the next election and Cuba will be getting a heck of a lot closer to welcoming US cruise ships in Havana harbour.

    I think the Hon Premier talks big but thinks small here.

  3. This was a controversial topic and I thought it could have gone either way, but I won’t be surprised when Cayman becomes a concrete jungle sold to the highest bidder. Subsequently losing its very charm we aimed to bring people in to see.

  4. Let’s put reefs issue aside for a moment and talk about capacity. Open space capacity. Infrastructure capacity. Roads capacity.
    Do you think overnight visitors will continue to come if they start feeling packed like sardines?
    Do you think super rich will continue investing in real estate if quality of life goes down due to lack of open spaces and destruction of the natural environment?
    Where do you think few extra millions of toilet flashes a day will go? What impact will it have on the sea acidity?
    Where do you think few extra millions of pieces of garbage will go?
    What about annoyance factor that massive influxes of people on a small island bring?
    What about local population’s rights to enjoy life without being forced to tolerate massive amounts of visitors?

    Anybody calculated the carrying capacity of this
    island at the height of the season without degrading the tourism product and over-stretching the infrastructure and natural resources?

    There is a need to understand the full costs of cruise tourism; to put a value on the things that are disrupted or damaged when visitors arrive in large numbers, and to ensure that adequate funds are recovered and used for remediation.

  5. Our finance industry hangs on by a thread with increase regulation and scrutiny by the US.

    Cuba opening up poses a much great threat to stay over than our cruise industry.

    We just saw that MSC plans to home port in Cuba and include Cayman on that itinerary. What happens when the US really starts heading in?

    Oasis class cruise ships were designed specifically for the Caribbean. They have the open promenade through the middle of the ships for warm climate. These are not made with Asia or any other markets in mind, they are Caribbean ships.

    Guess what that means? When these larger ships launch they replace smaller ones that can be utilized for new and growing areas like Asia.

    Like it or not, we are at a cross roads. We can continue with cruise or not. Some seem to think we should just discard cruise. But think about it a little harder for a minute, does it make sense to throw away an industry that is already working and employs thousands of people?

    What would we replace that $160m with? Everyone seems to think that the two tourism industries are not linked.

    43% of cruisers come back to one of the destinations as a stayover guest.

    DOT Cayman has already proven that 5% a year of cruisers come back to Cayman (at 2M people that is 100k future stayover tourists).

    That is even forgetting about the fact that if you lose jobs without cruise or with a drop in cruise it will trickle over into every aspect of life in Cayman.

  6. @ Jonathon Barnes

    Your comment is also posted on another website and it contains many errors, some of which I’m happy to correct here.

    You say – Oasis class cruise ships were designed specifically for the Caribbean. In which case why has Allure of the Seas been based in the Mediterranean since May 2015? In fact the Oasis class is designed to work wherever the money is.

    As for the Far Eastern market? It is booming right now and will not end up as a dumping ground for the older vessels currently visiting Grand Cayman. Brand new vessels like Quantum of the Seas are already operating out of Shanghai and seem very likely to be joined by Harmony of the Seas next year.

    If you check the Oasis class winter Caribbean itineraries from Ft Lauderdale they show seven-day cruises with only three stops and two of those are at facilities part-owned by Royal Caribbean – that doesn’t leave much scope for Grand Cayman does it?

    Incidentally, there is also absolutely no hard evidence to support the DoT claim that cruise shippers come back in large numbers as stayover guests.

    I have no issues with people who support the dock but please make sure you post facts not nonsense.

  7. I recall with admiration the very eloquent debates, in the Legislatively Assembly, of one of Cayman’s distinguished politicians, when he often reminded the Members of the House of the following sage advice of Alexander Pope: "A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring: There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, but drinking largely sobers us again…". My unsolicited advice to the Hon. Premier, is that he should drink deep of the sage advice that has been given to him, and his government, by the scientific advisors who are more knowledgeable on this subject than they are, bearing in mind that those with a vested interest in this project may not necessarily have (as a top priority) the best interest of the Cayman Islands. Also, to those who may oppose my views, please note that it doesn’t matter much to me whether or not you agree with me, as long as you realize that I have as much right to express my views against the Premier’s precipitous action, as you have to support it! Mr. Premier, please listen to the government’s scientific advisors, and not make any hasty decisions that could result in irreparable damage to the Cayman Islands.

  8. Firstly David,

    During the summer many ships move on to other areas such as Alaska and the Med but during high season they all return to the Caribbean, including the Allure and the soon to launch Harmony.

    The Quantum class was specifically designed for the Asian market, so yes there will be newer ships heading to Asia but many older ships that are taken out of service in the Caribbean are given a face lift and moved elsewhere when replaced by the Oasis class.
    As the Oasis there will be a few times that Quantum calls into other areas but this is the exception not the norm.

    Cayman is never going to be on an Oasis Class ship’s itinerary without a berthing facility. So as you pointed out there is zero scope for Cayman to be included as we currently are.

    If you would like hard evidence I suggest you do what I have. Go out and speak to the tour operators, taxi drivers etc and ask them where many of their stay over guests first found Cayman. What you will hear is exactly what I have been told, a large percentage of them were introduced to Cayman on a cruise and decided to come back after.

  9. @ Jonathon Barnes

    Your original comment stated categorically that – Oasis class cruise ships were designed specifically for the Caribbean.

    That is nonsense so are you prepared to retract it?

    As for the Quantum class being specifically designed for the Asian market? That is more nonsense.

    Only one of the three Quantum vessels is destined for the Asian market. Anthem of the Seas has been based in the UK for its inaugural season, it will then reposition to New Jersey. When Ovation of the Seas goes into service next year it will initially sail out of the UK before repositioning to Sydney on the east coast of Australia, where it will cruise local waters.

    There is no prospect of Oasis class vessels coming here, even if the dock is built, because Grand Cayman does not fit their operating profile and the sooner people get their heads around that the better.

    The only way to get these mega-liners to call here is to do the kind of deal that has created cruise resorts like Labadee or Amber Cove and that would be a major step up from a simple dock.

  10. The Premier says that Cayman is the only island in the Caribbean with no cruise pier, please correct me if I am wrong but this seems to be a lie or in the least misinformation.

    As far as I understand Anguilla and St. Barth don’t have cruise ship ports.

    Barbuda, Anegada, The Grenadines as well as Saba to mention a few more.

    You may also notice that these locations are considered exclusive.

    Here’s some good reading about the subject of Islands with no regular influx of cruise ship passengers.