Dock protest draws 250-300

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.” 

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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.” 

Between 250 and 300 people, many of them holding placards, protested the proposed cruise ship berthing facility at the George Town waterfront on Saturday. – Photo: Alan Markoff

Between 250 and 300 people, many of them holding placards, protested the proposed cruise ship berthing facility at the George Town waterfront on Saturday. – Photo: Alan Markoff

Protesters on Saturday gathered to listen to those speaking out against the proposed dock project. – Photo: Alan Markoff

Protesters on Saturday gathered to listen to those speaking out against the proposed dock project. – Photo: Alan Markoff
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  1. I respect Bud Johnson, but what he is failing to realize is that with the cruise industry, it is opposite to most other industries. The quality vs quantity argument does not hold here, because in the cruise industry the larger ships bring the better quality customers.

    I think carrying capacity is something we can and should look into, but it doesn’t change the fact that in order to attract the better quality cruises, a pier that is acceptable to the cruise lines is necessary. Building a pier does not necessarily mean an increase in total tourists. If we determine there is a certain carrying capacity, we will have the ability to attract the larger quality ships, while setting a cap on the smaller lower ticket budget cruises.

  2. Dock protesters have their right to object for what they believe in, however we must also realize that Cruise Tourism and Marine environment extends way beyond the George Town Dock.
    Why concentrate on just the dock area? is there some other reason that the rest of the island does not know, and should not have a say, why the crowd only drew majority of white collar business persons from around the area.
    Cruise Tourism need to be extended to the other districts, and to do this we would need upgrading to the docks, that we may have more visitors coming aboard and getting the opportunity to see other districts. We in the eastern districts are very satisfied with those who can only take a bus-tour and spend a few dollars, and not just targeting higher-spending cruise visitors.
    I respect those for taking a stand for what they want, but where in this have I heard any plans for other districts. Besides, some government ministers involved should have been up front to definitely know what they are standing for, instead of shuffling from one foot to the other at the back. Good crowd, but all dock concerned business people. Would have expected to see more Caymanians objecting, instead of just a handful.

  3. I am ever so happy to see that such a large number of concerned citizens showed up to show their respective interest in the Island and the environment and the next-generation. Mr.Johnson is correct in saying that the large number of people from cruise tourism would have a negative impact on stay over tourism. I have heard many tourist complain about the same and said the same words . Cayman Compass, did you do a survey on the cruise ship dock? If so, then send that and all the comments on the cruise ship dock issue to Mr. Panton so he can really see the argument on this project.

  4. Mr. Watkins the reason why the cruise line build larger ships is so they can put more people on one ship and make more money. Would it make more sense to build one ship that can take the same amount of people as two smaller ships? They don’t build larger ships because the people would spend more money to go on them . I just wish that people would look at something else besides that God almighty dollar, and see that there’s more important issues that needs to be addressed, like leaving the better than what we found it, the environment, the next-generation.

  5. Mr Ebanks, I’m not sure I follow you. I’m not trying to argue why the ships are getting bigger, I’m simply stating the facts – the newer ships are always nicer, have more amenities and thus attract the higher end guests. It is like comparing an old, out-of-date hotel to a new nice shiny one, people will spend more to go to the newer nicer one. However, in the cruise industry, the newer ships that are nicer, are also bigger – too big to tender.

    You are bringing up money, it’s not about money, it’s about providing for our families. I don’t care about money, but I do care about taking care of the ones I love. And I know a lot of other Caymanians who feel the same way. It’s also about keeping crime at low levels. When people are unemployed, they will make ends meet one way or the other. If the jobs disappear, they have to resort to various illegal activities in order to make ends meet. If the piers are not built, cruise numbers will continue to fall, and as the cruise numbers fall, so will the amount of jobs there are available. Government will be making less, but have to support more unemployed Caymanians. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

  6. It is interesting to finally read comments that concede the fact that, despite claims by the pro dock lobby, there is no guarantee that Grand Cayman will be added to the Oasis class schedules if the dock is built.

    I also understand that concerns were expressed about what might happen if a cruise line tried to take a substantial financial stake in the project and how much control CIG might have to relinquish to secure the funding if that happened.

    Apart from the more obvious issues one thing the protest did raise was the very serious question of how this project should be viewed from a financial perspective. There clearly is a realisation that this is not, as some of the lobbyists are suggesting, a case of simply building the dock then sitting back as the money rolls in and that was very welcome news.

  7. I agree with pretty much everything that Watkins has said.
    I drove through town around 3:30 and it looked like maybe 30 people, coming back through town just after 4pm I would have guessed 150 but I guess the Compass would have a better idea since I saw the reporter there in a picture.
    I also noticed that it wasn’t all locals so the elected members need to realize that a big part of this push against the piers is based on overseas environmental groups, the diving community and even more so the tender boat company.
    I have no problem with Adrien or any other business owner fighting for their livelihood, I do think the trickery of setting up the Sunset managers staff and tenants in a cleverly disguised "we want only to see an upgraded tender solution" campaign is starting to show clearer and clearer.
    Hearing Courtney Platt switch his approach to "I know we need a dock but lets get together and make it the best one for Cayman" is probably the main reason you haven’t heard him involved with Save Cayman directly for a while.

    To end, the funny thing is that most of what the protesters are saying now is fairly similar to the pro dock supporters have touted since the beginning, we need berthing, lets get together and make the least impact and best solution for Cayman.

    Mr Premier I think it is safe to say that moving forward is the only logical way to build for Cayman”s future.

  8. I note that Cayman Airways in announcing their new Brac – Cuba route have acknowledged that it is likely that US airlines will soon have much greater access to Cuba.
    I still do not see any approach from Government to this obvious question as far as the cruise ships are concerned. Should we not be asking the cruise lines what the likely impact will be on Cayman if they are allowed to stop over in Cuba?.

  9. Roger I believe many are going to be in for a shock if they think that Fidel is going to let everyone trample Cuba and turn it upside down like the rest of the world.
    Cuba only want and need the money.
    And truly speaking I would not want to see too many changes there. It does not need to be like everywhere else. .
    However those people are smarter than we think.