Cruise lines to provide cash for Cayman Islands port expansion, says minister

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Cruise ship passengers lining up for the tender at George Town, Grand Cayman. Photo: David Stanley/Wikimedia

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands (CNS) — Cayman Islands tourism minister, Moses Kirkconnell, has suggested that the cruise lines will be financing the development of the proposed cruise pier facility and cargo expansion in the capital, George Town, if the project goes ahead, regardless of which of the three groups of bidders is selected to undertake the development.

During an exchange of parliamentary questions in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, the minister gave another hint at how this project might be paid for, though he remained vague about the issues surrounding this evermore controversial project.

However, he finally agreed to meet the opposition and reveal the information government is using to justify the decision to press on with the proposal.

Kirkconnell denied that government was funding any advertisements that implied that signing a port referendum petition was a ‘no’ vote for the port.

But during the exchange between government and the opposition about the port, he admitted working with a local public relations company understood to be behind the promotional advertisement – reposted by the premier on social media – which suggested that a referendum would derail the project and that supporting the petition was taking a position against the port.

The minister went on to echo that same sentiment when he said that the referendum campaign was “endangering the economic future” of the Cayman Islands by trying to prevent the cruise pier development.

He said it was public knowledge that government was entertaining the idea of the cruise lines offering the financial package for the project, as he tried to explain that holding a referendum would stop the project in its tracks.

But again, Kirkconnell was extremely unclear in his comments as to whether or not an actual offer had been made. He suggested that if it had been made, then a six month clock on the financing package would begin to tick, and a referendum would throw off the timelines of such a package, undermining preferential borrowing rates or other elements of the deal.

Kirkconnell did not explain how the cruise lines would be financing the project, given that there are three pre-qualified bidding teams and only one has cruise line partners. While Verdant Isles is made up of Orion Engineering, McAlpine and both Carnival and Royal Caribbean, neither China Harbour nor the French group, who are also still in the running, are believed to have cruise lines involved in their current teams.

Answering questions about the government’s promotion of the project, the minister told MP Kenneth Bryan, who represents George Town Central where the cruise port would be built, that at a future date he would give him details in writing on how much money government has spent promoting the port.

But Kirkconnell also revealed that not all the voices used in radio and TV commercials promoting the project were those of people working in the cruise tourism sector, such as tour operators, vendors or taxi drivers, as people have been led to believe, but were civil servants employed to do the voice-overs.

In another interesting development emerging from the exchange, the minister agreed to a meeting with the opposition members and Bryan, the independent member. Despite a year-long but fruitless effort by the opposition to arrange this type of meeting, Kirkconnell dismissed claims that they had made any real effort to meet with him.

But even if that was the case, he said, that was in the past and he was now happy to arrange a meeting. Furthermore, Kirkconnell said he was willing to revel all of the facts and information that has led to government’s decision to push ahead with the project and why the cruise sector will fall away without the piers.

However, the representatives from the cruise industry involved in the tendering process who attended the September public meeting with the minister said that the cruise lines would not stop calling on Cayman. They said the smaller ships would still be plying the Caribbean region even when, sometime in the future, the number of Oasis class ships begins to increase.

At present there is only one vessel in the area carrying over 5,000 passengers that bypasses Cayman. The failure of that ship to call there has had no negative effect to date and Cayman remains on track for another record-breaking year when it comes to cruise tourism numbers.

Nevertheless, Kirkconnell continued to claim that without the piers the number of passengers calling on Grand Cayman in the future could fall by 40 percent or even 50 percent as the ships are decommissioned.

The minister confirmed that he plans to make a statement to the Legislative Assembly on Friday about tourism, when he would be talking more about this proposed project as well as other issues relating to the sector. He said that his ministry intends to hold another public meeting in George Town Central in the near future.

Republished with permission of Cayman News Service

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