MSC Cruises has announced it will bring its new 5,714 passenger mega-ship – the fourth-largest cruise ship in the world – to the Cayman Islands from 2019.
The ship will need to be tendered, which appears to undermine claims from the pro-port lobby that new cruise piers are needed in George Town to attract the new generation of larger ships to the island.
Both Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines have previously stated that they will only bring their mega-ships to ports with a proper dock and Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell has cited the need to appeal to larger ships as one of the motivations behind the cruise berthing project.
But MSC does not appear to be deterred. The company announced Monday that it will be launching the new MSC Meraviglia, which it describes as a “sophisticated mega smart ship” in October 2019, and including the Cayman Islands on its Western Caribbean itinerary.
The European company, which is in the midst of a US$10 billion investment plan, will have 11 mega cruise ships coming into service between 2017 and 2026.
The Compass reached out to MSC cruise lines and to Tourism Minister Kirkconnell for comment but had not received a response by press time.
The Cayman Islands has been inundated with cruise traffic over the past few months, with up to 20,000 passengers arriving in port on the busiest days, as ships divert from hurricane-affected islands in the Eastern Caribbean.
David Carmichael, manager of Caribbean Marine Services, one of Cayman’s biggest tender companies, said it was handling the additional passengers comfortably and could cope with a ship the size of the MSC Meraviglia.
“Capacity is no problem,” he said. “The Carnival Vista and the Norwegian Epic are up around 5,000 passengers and for that we use five, 250-passenger tenders through two or three shell doors, just like a dock.
“If we have to reach up to 6,000 passengers, this would require extra tenders, which we have, and more shell door access.”
He said Cayman’s tender operations were unique because they were designed to enable ships to open their shell doors and roll guests on and off as they would on a dock.
“We have all but done away with the steps and ‘old school’ tendering practices. Cayman’s shore-side tenders now operate almost exclusively this way, with the port enhancing with new shore side ramps and CMS doing the same with our tenders.”
If a ship could dock in Cayman, he said, it could be tendered.
He added that the increase in passengers in the town was going smoothly. Caribbean Marine Services tenders up to a maximum of 17,000 passengers a day, though not all ships require shore-side tenders.
“How are we handling the increase? Just fine. It is just like any other day,” he said. “We are not sacrificing service to get more ships in. We handle what we can.”
He said the busy days were historically Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, so the increase had provided work on the off days, including weekends.
He added, “Princess, Costa, NCL, Celebrity, Holland America, MSC, AIDA and a few others all carry tenders, so when you see a six- or seven-ship day, those extra ships tender themselves. Currently we handle at least four ships on a busy day and the rest self-tender.”