Cayman’s potential cruise berthing facility came one step closer to reality Wednesday, when Premier Alden McLaughlin announced that MSC Cruises has made a financial commitment to the project. Royal Caribbean, Disney and Carnival had previously signed on to help build the facility in George Town.

MSC Cruises has signed a letter of intent to provide $15 million in financing on the project, bringing the total amount pledged between the four cruises lines to a total of $180 million. The total cost of the project is still unknown, and government is sorting between three proposals to carry out the project. The completed bids were initially expected by the end of the first quarter in 2019, but McLaughlin said Monday that the bidders have asked for a little more time to finalise their proposals.

“It’s a complex arrangement,” said McLaughlin when reached by the Cayman Compass. “That’s why we’re in the sixth year of development. This project spans three administrations.”

McLaughlin said that the government has spent $7 million on consultants, research and development, and environmental impact assessments regarding the project.

McLaughlin said Thursday that the cruise lines that have already agreed to finance the facility will have preferential use of the facility.

A bid for a construction company to complete the project is pending.

“These agreements, coupled with the finance to be provided by whichever entity is eventually selected as the preferred bidder on the project, ensure that no public funding will be required to build the cruise berths and enhanced cargo facility,” he said in an official statement.

“As well as strengthening the project’s financing structure, having cruise companies financially vested in the project provides assurance that the country’s finances will not be exposed to risk and is a positive indication of their commitment to our Islands for decades to come. It is a win-win situation for the country, the preferred bidder and the cruise lines.”

A PwC study indicated that a cruise ship berthing facility could reasonably be expected to create 500 construction jobs immediately. And then over the course of decades, studies show that the facility could bring $245 million in economic benefits to Cayman.

McLaughlin said that he hopes to have more information about a timeline for the final bidders by the end of the month. The bottom line, he said, is that government had to be careful to get enough funding for this project and ensure that it would not be funded by public outlay.

The project is not without its detractors. The Cruise Port Referendum Cayman group is attempting to trigger a referendum on the issue by collecting 5,288 signatures to a petition. Mario Rankin, one of the group’s organisers, said that the group is 96% of the way to completing the petition.

“Even if cruise ship companies say they can build it for free, that wouldn’t make a difference,” he said. “Whether someone is paying for it or not, that doesn’t mean that it’s good for the environment.”

Rankin said that his group circulated an email to every one of Cayman’s elected representatives voicing their concern about the project last month. None of the representatives responded to the email, said Rankin, but he did receive a response from Governor Martyn Roper acknowledging his missive.

Earlier this month, Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell sent out an advisory indicating that rumours that the government had selected a contractor to build the facility were premature and spurious.

“As Minister of Tourism, with the responsibility for overseeing the development of the cruise berthing and enhanced cargo port facility project, I can confirm that neither the Major Project Office nor the Cayman Islands Government have entered into any deal with any company bidding to design, build, finance and maintain the piers,” said Kirkconnell in a press release.

On Wednesday, Kirkconnell hailed the addition of MSC Cruises to the financial commitments that have already been made and spoke in support of the project, which is now in its sixth year of development.

“This agreement represents the accomplishment of another key milestone in the life cycle of this project,” he said in an official statement. “MSC operates more than 1,000 routes globally and is one of the fastest growing cruise companies in the world. Their commitment to the Cayman Islands will help to sustain and grow our cruise tourism industry into the future.”

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