Fri | Apr 3, 2020

Incomplete Port Royal cruise port secures first ship call - Floating pier installation by September

Published:Friday | February 8, 2019 | 11:52 AM
The Seawalk is loaded onboard ‘Rolldock Storm’ and is currently in transit to Jamaica.
The Seawalk is loaded onboard ‘Rolldock Storm’ and is currently in transit to Jamaica.

Port Authority of Jamaica, PAJ, is already promoting Port Royal as a cruise port and has booked at least one vessel which will make its first call at the historic town almost a year from now.

The Discovery 2, operated by Marella Cruises, will visit on January 20, 2020.

To preserve the sunken city that is part of Port Royal’s 500 years of colourful and tragic history as a pirate haunt, the Port Authority will install a floating pier to facilitate cruise ship calls. The agency told the Financial Gleaner that the Seawalk pier to be supplied by Cruise Ventures is scheduled to arrive in Jamaica by February 28.

In the meantime, the Port Authority is promoting the port as a new cruise destination at trade shows and in cruise industry media. Marella has already added Port Royal to its listings.

The landside cruise terminal project was contracted last year to Orion Marine Construction for US$7.5 million. Orion will build a seawalk foundation, storage pile, shore mooring and timber deck access trestles to facilitate installation of the floating pier.

Port Authority is investing US$40 million ($5.5 billion) overall in the cruise project for Port Royal, which includes the Seawalk system, and marine and landside construction works, but is not ruling out additional future spend.

“There may be additional expenditure by the PAJ for other phases,” the agency said via email, adding later that those phases may relate to retail space and other developments.

The choice of Seawalk was made after consultation with the Jamaica National Heritage Trust and other agencies about safeguarding Port Royal’s historical treasures.

PAJ contracted its development to Cruise Ventures for approximately US$8.5 million, plus other attendant costs, inclusive of customs charges, and the pier is expected to be installed by the second fiscal quarter, or by September 2019.

To maintain the environment and protect the historic artefacts, which are attractions, the PAJ first weighed the best options for developing Port Royal for cruise calls so as not to infringe its protected status.

“Environmental limitations resulted in the PAJ’s exploration of alternatives. It subsequently identified a recently developed technology for berthing large cruise vessels in similarly sensitive ecological environments. A suitable alternative, Seawalk, was identified,” the agency said.

“It is a floating, articulating pier which is motorized and under electronic control and unfolds to meet a ship which is anchored in a stationary position off the shore.”

Landside works include the construction of a terminal building, ground transportation areas, retail facilities and other amenities. Construction works on Phase 1A began in January and should be finished by April.

The other phases are to be finalised by December.

The cruise terminal is being developed at the Old Coal Wharf – a site that once served as a naval dockyard and was determined to be an acceptable distance from the sunken city, which is a protected area, but with sufficient land space for the terminal and depth on the seaside to accommodate the docking of ships.

The marine structures at the site were demolished last month.

Port Royal, located at the end of the palisadoes at the mouth of the Kingston Harbour, was founded in 1518 by the Spanish. It was once the largest city in the Caribbean and a centre for regional trade, and frequented by pirates. Hit by earthquakes, its modern-day attractions now include parts of the city that lie under the sea.

The promotion of Port Royal as a cruise destination began in earnest early in 2018, said Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett. The historic town is being jointly marketed with Kingston as new tourist destinations.

“The rich history of this once-powerful city will pull many travellers who are fascinated by its pirate background and charm. Beyond that, Kingston is on track to becoming a solid and dynamic city destination,” said Bartlett.

“The mere fact that we have basically three new hotels opening this year, coupled with the rapid growth of Airbnb all around, speaks volumes to the growth of the city as a unique destination. Of course, the plan now is for smaller vessels, one at a time ...,” he said.

As for the selling of Port Royal: “Quite a lot of work is required, but we just have to keep pushing,” the tourism minister said.