Opposition politicians say they are “deeply concerned” by the visit of cruise line executives to the Cayman Islands to promote a $200-million project to build a new cruise berthing facility in George Town harbour.

Members of the Verdant Isle group, which is the preferred bidder on the controversial project, are on island this week to discuss the plans and answer questions from different groups about the proposal and the financial arrangements for the project.

The group, which includes executives from Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines, is meeting with community groups, such as the National Trust and Cruise Port Referendum Cayman, the campaign group that forced a people-initiated referendum on the project.

In a press release yesterday, Verdant Isle, said, “The meetings are the first in a series of planned stakeholder meetings being conducted by Verdant Isle over the coming months, which will also include an open town hall meeting.”

Opposition members have taken exception to the visit however, accusing the cruise lines of “meddling in local political issues”.

Highlighting the appearance of Carnival and Royal Caribbean executives at a public meeting held by Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell on the project last year, the opposition group said it was the second time the cruise lines had tried to influence public opinion.

Leader of the Opposition Arden McLean took aim at the government in his press release, suggesting they had facilitated this week’s visit to help drum up support for the port ahead of the referendum.

“I am very concerned that the Deputy Premier would encourage this visit at such an inappropriate time. The country is preparing for the referendum and here we have the ‘selected bidders’ arriving in Cayman to influence public opinion.”

He questioned the immigration status of the cruise line executives on the island and added, “These corporations need to understand they are required to stay out of local politics, more specifically they need to stay out of the upcoming People’s Initiated Referendum, it is not their business.”

Deputy leader Alva Suckoo also commented on the visit, saying it was designed to “disrespectfully ignore their (the people’s) voices and invite their business partners in to deny the people a fair vote and outcome.”

The Opposition has also called for overseas observers to be brought in for the referendum.

Speaking on behalf of Verdant Isle Port Partners in an earlier press release about the visit, Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley said the meetings were to share information about the cruise berthing and cargo enhancement project and to listen to stakeholder needs and concerns.

“We are committed to being a proactive, approachable and positive community partner, emphasising stakeholder relationships based on transparency and authenticity,” he said.

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