About 250 to 300 people, many of them holding placards expressing their objections, braved blistering-hot late-afternoon sun to protest the planned cruise ship berthing facility at the waterfront across from Cardinall Avenue.
Several opponents, including Vassel “Bud” Johnson Jr., spoke out against the planned project, which the government recently said would go forward. Since 1986, Mr. Johnson has worked at Atlantis Submarines on the waterfront, first as a submarine pilot and then as the general manager for the past 22 years. He said his customers are both stay-over and cruise tourists, but that he is against the proposed project.
“My objection is not to cruise tourism or to a cruise pier,” he said. “To be clear, we should support cruise tourism in a managed way to ensure that all visitors have a good experience.”
Mr. Johnson said his main concern is that Cayman has a finite “carrying capacity” and that pursuing cruise tourism on a large scale could create overcrowding of the destination, something which could have negative impacts on stay-over tourism.
“This project, as it is currently proposed, will involve significant negative impacts on Grand Cayman, with questionable benefits, primarily due to the absence of a committed, comprehensive tourism vision, policy and strategy.”
He noted that all cruise ship passengers are not the same with regard to the amount of money they would inject into the Cayman economy, the main factor government has cited as the reason for their decision to proceed with the project.
“We should be strategically targeting higher-spending cruise visitors, not just chasing more numbers,” he said. “Don’t get distracted and build two piers because we need the cruise lines’ financing.”
Minister of Environment Wayne Panton, who was at the protest to observe, confirmed that there is no guarantee from cruise lines yet for large Oasis class cruise ships or similar-sized vessels to come to Cayman, although it is expected that “some sort of commitment” will become part of a final agreement to proceed with the cruise berthing facility project.
Speaking minutes after a protest was held against the planned dock project, Mr. Panton said that it “goes without saying” that there would be a commitment from the cruise lines that the largest-sized ships would call on Grand Cayman if it built a cruise berthing facility that could accommodate them.
“If we were to build a cruise berthing facility and the large class ships didn’t come [to Cayman], then clearly we’ve failed in one of the objectives of this facility,” Mr. Panton said. “[If that doesn’t happen] the equation is substantially altered and then we might have done it in vain.”
Courtney Platt, one of organizers of the protest, said he was pleased with the turnout, considering the short notice and lack of advance advertising. Like Mr. Johnson, Mr. Platt said he did not oppose some kind of cruise berthing facility, he was just against the one currently proposed.
“It’s not a black and white issue,” he said, noting that many people think the choice is to either lose cruise ship tourism or proceed with the currently proposed project and destroy the George Town harbor marine environment. “We say, find a better way of saving cruise tourism, but don’t kill the reef.”
Adrien Briggs, who is involved with a number of tourism-related businesses and who operates Cayman Marine Services, the company that supplies the tendering service to the cruise ships, explained his reasons for objecting to the planned cruise-berthing project.
“We have an island based on tourism to a large extent,” he said. “Our tourism is based on our marine environment. Yet we’re prepared to sacrifice that … so that cruise lines that have nothing vested in Cayman have a bigger bottom line. How dumb can we get?”
Another opponent of the proposed project, Johann Moxam, noted that the protest brought out a wide demographic of Cayman’s society.
“The diversity of those attending says a lot,” he said. “There’s a good collection of demographics – youngsters and senior citizens, and all ages in between. We have white collar professionals, merchants, civil servants and blue collar workers – all of whom are concerned citizens.”
With so much at stake in relation to the cruise dock project, Mr. Moxam said it is imperative that Cayman gets the solution right.
“We need to look beyond the politics and self-interests and ensure we find the right solution for the future of the Cayman Islands that respects both sides of the equation,” he said.
Minister Panton said he would have spoken to the crowd, but he was not asked. Still, he said the protest represented “a good expression of democracy.” “I’m not sure that everyone [attending] is opposed to the project, but … I think everyone here has a genuine concern and love of the country.”
Because of the size of the crowd, those in the back – including Mr. Panton – could not hear what was being said. However, Mr. Panton intimated that he is still open to hearing arguments.
“My concern is to ensure the benefits far outweigh the costs,” he said. “I haven’t worked that out in my mind yet.”