Falmouth pier to dock two largest cruise ships
A plan first announced two years ago to expand the cruise port of Falmouth to accommodate two of the world's largest ships simultaneously is to be executed this year, pending approval from the planning authority.
It will require the dredging and expansion of one of the two berths at the Falmouth pier.
The berth to be redeveloped can only accommodate ships with passenger capacity of around 4,000, the Port Authority of Jamaica indicated back in 2015, whereas the world's largest ships carry more than 6,000 passengers.
The project is expected to lead to a five per cent in cruise arrivals, which equates to more than 35,000 additional passengers per annum, according to estimates from the Port Authority, which operates the pier in partnership with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line.
The expansion - which is meant to accommodate more vessels like Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, as well as business from other cruise lines - will deepen the southern waterway leading up to the berth. The dredging operation itself is expected to begin in the third quarter of this year and last for two weeks in a 24-hour operation.
Royal Caribbean had encouraged the Port Authority to expand the pier due to the increased numbers of ships coming on stream in the short to medium term, Port Authority vice-president William Tatham told Gleaner Business.
"So all in all, this was the smart way to go in order to take advantage of other opportunities. There are more cruise ships today than ever in history and many of them are very large vessels. And very large vessels like to go to ports that can accommodate them easily and it's not a fight to get in and out," said Tatham.
"So by doing all this additional dredging and support, we will be able to meet the needs of our partner, which is Royal Caribbean, but we will also be able to meet the needs of an industry that's growing in ship size," he said.
Originally, when the pier was constructed, there were plans for three Oasis of the Seas. Now, Royal Caribbean has ordered three more of these vessels, Tatham noted. The Oasis of the Seas cruise liner spans more than three times the length of a football pitch, with a capacity for 6,300 passengers and 2,000 additional crew.
Right now, a ship of that size can only dock at the north berth. The dredging and expansion will allow such mega ships to dock at both the north and south berths. The cost of the dredging was not immediately available.
"It lifts the passenger throughput and makes it a port that can accommodate the two largest vessels in the world at any one time," said Tatham. "I would say five per cent growth, but it may be more."
Some 757,000 cruise passengers visited Jamaica between January and April, with the majority, or 317,370, coming through Falmouth. It was followed by Montego Bay at 230,530 and Ocho Rios at 208,240, according to the latest data on cruise visitors from the Port Authority.
During the 2016 calendar year, 707,000 passengers came to the island via Falmouth and the rough estimate of a five per cent increase would equate to about 35,000 additional arrivals.
The Falmouth Cruise Port, located in Trelawny, was constructed in late 2009 and started operations in 2011.
The environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the current expansion programme states that the Port Authority is seeking to dredge the east side of the Falmouth Cruise Port south berth to widen the berth pocket and a section of the access channel. The basin's current depth is 12m with the berth pockets being 11.6m to the west at the north berth and 10.6m to the east at the south berth.
"Due to the presence of valuable natural resources in the area, the PAJ engaged the services of environmental consultant company Smith Warner International Limited to analyse the impacts from dredging at the Falmouth Cruise Port," stated the EIA, which mentioned a section of coral heads at the edge of the dredging corridor that are to be protected.
The environmental report is posted on the website of the National Environment and Planning Agency. Public consultations on EIAs are a precursor to planning approvals.