Emails reveal tender plan for mega-ships

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines were in advanced negotiations with government and Port Authority officials in early 2012 over upgrades to the Royal Watler dock that would have allowed the Genesis class mega-ships to visit Grand Cayman. 

Emails between senior officials, released under the Freedom of Information Law, suggest a tentative agreement had been reached, in principle, to tender the 6,000-passenger ships. 

The argument that mega-ships do not use tenders has been cited to advance the case for cruise piers in George Town harbor. The documents indicate that, at least in 2012, Royal Caribbean was open to negotiation on the issue. 

A draft schedule had been worked out for the Allure of the Seas ship to make weekly calls between June and October 2012, provided the Port Authority made upgrades to allow for security screening of passengers at the port. 

Emails from Shomari Scott, director of tourism at the time, indicate the upgrades could lead to the ship making 11 calls to Grand Cayman during that period, bringing a total of just over 60,000 passengers. 

The messages do not indicate why the plan fell through. 

Mr. Scott told the Cayman Compass on Thursday that government had been keen to push ahead, but Royal Caribbean had cooled on the plan in the aftermath of the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship in Italy, which created huge public relations concerns around safety of mega-ships and for the industry in general. 

Prior to that incident, Mr. Scott believes an agreement had been reached for what would have been a pilot program for tendering those ships. He said, “They were willing at a time to test it out.” 

He said it would have been a temporary measure, but some officials believed that if the test was successful, the cruise line could have been persuaded to tender on an ongoing basis. 

The emails indicate that Royal Caribbean had given government a wish list, including premium anchor positions and reductions in tender fees, to help make the agreement happen. 

A government presentation indicates a price tag of just under $700,000 for a new shore-side security building and modifications to the landing area to allow for two-level unloading. 

Opponents of the dock argue that the proposal demonstrates that building new piers is not the only option available to allow mega-ships to come to Cayman. 

Save Cayman, a group opposing construction of a cruise ship berthing dock in George Town obtained the emails through an open records request. The group says the correspondence provides evidence that tendering is logistically possible and that cruise lines could be open to negotiation. 

Supporters of a new cruise facility say the fact that the plan did not materialize and that no cruise ship of that size has ever visited Grand Cayman is powerful proof that Royal Caribbean will not tender the larger vessels – even if it is technically possible. 

Attracting the mega-ships to Cayman has been put forward as one of the benefits of having cruise piers in George Town harbor. 

Keith Sahm, general manager of Sunset House and spokesman for Save Cayman, said the negotiations showed it was feasible to tender the mega-ships, despite claims to the contrary. 

“What it shows to me,” he said, “is that the ships could have been tendered and coming into Grand Cayman from as far back as 2012. 

“Obviously this arrangement fell through, but it shows that it is possible. I believe if government would stand their ground and protect our island and our crystal-clear waters, an agreement could be reached to tender these ships.” 

Robert Hamaty, owner of Tortuga Rum Company and a member of the pro-cruise ship dock organization Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future, said he was aware that former Premier Bush had been trying to get an agreement to tender the larger ships in 2011 and 2012. 

“Cruise visits were down and everybody was closing up shop,” Mr. Hamaty said. “It was something that the country really needed, and I understand Mr. Bush was doing whatever he could to encourage those ships to tender here. I don’t know how far it got, but we do know that Royal Caribbean has said tendering these cruise ships is not passenger friendly. 

“They have made their decision. I don’t know of any port where these ships have tendered.” 

Emails revealed that a draft schedule had been worked out for the Allure of the Seas mega-ship to make weekly calls to Grand Cayman between June and October 2012.

Emails revealed that a draft schedule had been worked out for the Allure of the Seas mega-ship to make weekly calls to Grand Cayman between June and October 2012.


  1. FYI – Allure of the Seas is an Oasis class liner.

    When going through these arguments you always have to remember that these mega-liners are not designed for island hopping, they are floating resorts that spend at least half of the time at sea.

    Despite the comments in this story if you check the itineraries for the vessel it doesn’t look like Royal Caribbean had any slack in their schedule to allow this to go ahead anyway.

  2. Its sad that the only ones that want this dock are the ones that are going to directly profit from it. My second point is how long will it take the government to make back its $200 million investment? In the end they are just better off dividing this money and giving it directly to these guys.
    I think it is a huge waste of money considering they dump and schools have been put on the back burner and they are building a new airport (the real income producer).

  3. I notice that the RCCL ship ”Anthem of the Seas” from their Quantum class ships is making its first stop in Grand Cayman December 5th. Second largest class ship in their fleet just below the much discussed Oasis class and bigger than their Freedom class,who also originally said they couldn’t be tendered, bypassed Grand Cayman, and after six months were tendered and have remained ever since.
    There are alternatives to the dredging and docks being suggested, be they upgraded tendering combined with improved shore services and smoother landing procedures, or a less environmentally devastating and destructive options as discussed in the emails from the FOI.
    To proceed with the current proposal is economically, environmentally and morally wrong.

  4. The anti-pier movement know that if they simply make a call or send Royal Caribbean an e-mail, they will get the answer that they have decided that they will not tender these larger ships due to the time it would take for guests to get on and off the ship. Instead, the only way they could get the glimpse of a possibility of having ships tender is digging up e-mails from three years ago, when they considered it, then decided it was not viable for a ship that size.

    Instead of them doing some real investigative work, they left it there, and did not dig any deeper to find out why the talks broke down, because they know they will not like that answer and they do not want the public to know that answer. Which is that, as stated previously, Royal Caribbean will not tender the Oasis class ships, because disembarking and embarking would take too long, and be a miserable experience for their guests.

  5. It seems Rodney McDowall is trying to make an argument to keep tenders. Could that be because his boss owns the tender company? The anti-port movement are quick to claim conflict of interest on the pro-cruise and cargo piers, but their own obvious conflict is staring them in the face.

  6. I also want to point out, that cruise piers are only half the story. You are forgetting about cargo, which is arguably more important than the cruise piers. The cargo facility is Cayman’s lifeline, and without an improved and extended cargo pier, the entire island will be in a bind once capacity has been hit in a few years. Improved cargo facilities would benefit the entire island, lowering freight costs and that can be passed on to everyone living on the island in every industry.

  7. As much as the tender company and their supporting sister companies would like to believe that Oasis class ships may tender this is not the case.

    Royal Caribbean has private islands that only tender and the Oasis ships do NOT call in to a single one of them that are tender only. There is no greater tell than this fact.

    We have been "Calling their bluff" for 6 years now. With the Freedom class they only sailed for 6 months before calling into Cayman. There is a big difference.

    The Anthem of the seas will only make 3 calls in the next 12 months. The Quantum ships are smaller than the Independence of the Seas (Freedom Class Ship) so these are not "Mega Ships"

    Originally the anti-port group was trying to say that we need larger tenders to service the Oasis Class ships, but all along they know that the 300 person tenders that they current run are close to the maximum capacity, these have been looked at and after the evaluation by Royal in 2012 they obviously decided it was not a viable option for them.

    The agenda for Save Cayman is becoming clearer and clearer, they are interested in an "Improved Tender Option" or nothing at all. Somewhere along the way people will realize that the whole campaign was a charade to protect their monopolistic business model.

  8. To see how the Cayman Islands used to be, it might be wise to send a Mega-ship to Cayman Brac – the Brac’s population of 1,500 souls would be delighted to welcome 6,000 visitors from a Mega Ship!

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