When the first cruise ship started calling on Grand Cayman in the 1970s, it used its lifeboats to bring passengers ashore.
It was around that time that two young Caymanians, Adrien Briggs and Attlee Bodden, built the island’s first tender boats and established Caribbean Marine Services to ferry tourists to George Town.
At that point there was just one cruise ship, the Southward, visiting the island once a week.
Now the 44-year-old business, which has grown to include a fleet of 15 tender boats and employ 50 people, is facing closure.
“If they put two piers in, over 90% of the business disappears, so this business closes,” co-owner Briggs said, confirming one inevitable economic consequence of the $200 million development.
He said it made no sense for the tender company to continue operating for the few days a year when excess ships would be in port. And he said there had been no substantive discussions with government about how to handle the interim period, during construction, when tenders will be required.
Briggs, speaking to the Cayman Compass in a rare interview alongside his business partner Bodden, said they had no interest in running a reduced business.
“We would be out of the business,” he said. “If somebody wanted to pick up the slack for the last few percent [that can’t use the dock] they could, but we won’t be doing it.”
Briggs and Bodden started the tendering business in 1976.
On a recommendation from Attlee Bodden’s father, Theo Bodden, who was the port pilot, the two men oversaw the building of two timber vessels – named T1 and T2 – which became Cayman’s first tender boats. Briggs said they charged one dollar per passenger and he used crews from his fishing business to staff them.
It was not until Carnival Cruise Lines started coming to the island later in the 1970s that the tender business began to look economically viable in its own right.
Now it has grown to a company that can service up to 18,000 cruise passengers every day.
Briggs and his business manager, David Carmichael, dispute suggestions that the Oasis class mega ships, which carry more than 6,000 passengers, cannot be tendered – one of the principal reasons cited by government and its cruise industry partners for seeking to build the dock.
“In my opinion the Oasis would have tendered here but Royal Caribbean came out and said that ship would never be tendered. They said the Freedom of the Seas [Royal’s 4,400-passenger ship] couldn’t be tendered, too, and we ended up tendering that.”
Carmichael said Cayman’s tenders were different from conventional tenders that use steps and pontoons. He said passengers step straight on to CMS boats from a walkway – the same way they would access a dock.
“Won’t tender is different from can’t tender,” he added.
If the project goes ahead, Briggs and Bodden say their main concern is for their staff. The business employs 50 people, most of them Caymanians, as captains, crew, mechanics and other shore-side support positions.
“In any business in Cayman, you always have to be concerned about your staff because it is your staff that makes your business, so yes we are. When we come to that bridge, we will make a decision, but yes we will take care of our staff,” said Briggs.
He said he was sceptical that the port would create the amount of new jobs suggested by government.
“We get almost 2 million passengers now, so a few hundred thousand extra a year is going to mean a ton of new jobs? I don’t think so.”