Fri | Dec 6, 2019

We are continuing to consult on Port Royal cruise ship port development

Published:Sunday | November 17, 2019 | 12:41 AM

The history of Port Royal on full display.
The history of Port Royal on full display.

The following is a response from the Port Authority of Jamaica to a column by Enrique Okenve, PhD, head of the Department of History and Archaeology, The University of the West Indies, Mona, and published last week in The Sunday Gleaner .

We note two Sunday Gleaner articles – ‘Port Royal pier problem, UWI department warns development plan a threat to historic town’s ecosystem’, and ‘UWI can help with the Port Royal development plan’, both of which appeared last week.

We seek to clarify the processes undertaken in relation to the Port Royal cruise ship port development.

Given the historical, ecological and environmental importance of Port Royal, a co-management approach is being taken towards its development which involves input from all key stakeholder groups, including the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) ministries, departments and agencies, as well as academia and representatives from the Port Royal community.

The Port Royal cruise ship port development utilised a multi-stakeholder collaborative approach that sees various agencies taking the lead on specific components of the development project. The Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) has routinely engaged the relevant agencies throughout the entire development process and sought and received the requisite approvals from all the designated authorities, including The National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA), Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) and the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC).

The government regulatory entities tasked with overseeing the cultural and natural resources, planning and development, including transportation, have been integral to the Port Royal development and have been providing guidance on the legislative and development requirements. The JNHT has cleared the cultural and archaeological issues in guiding the development. The NEPA mandated the completion of an EIA report, which was done and their recommendations implemented, while the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) and the PAJ have been consulting on selected planning issues.

All development projects undertaken by the PAJ, including the proposed Port Royal cruise port project, are done in accordance with guidelines outlined in the Vision 2030 Jamaica – National Development Plan, which stipulates environmental, social and economic goals for Jamaica. For the past three years, the PAJ has actively explored and employed the best approach to bring cruise shipping to Kingston, ensuring accordance with regulatory guidelines.

There is no mandated requirement to consult with specific departments of the University of the West Indies, although the former chair of JNHT, who was integral to the early development activities of the project, is the head of the Legal Unit at UWI and a former member of the Faculties of Science & Technology and Law. Our contractor is a graduate student in Archaeology in the Department of History and Archaeology at UWI. We had consultations with the Faculty of Science and Technology which has responsibility for the Port Royal Marine Lab. Additionally, we are engaged in continuous consultations with the Institute of Jamaica, experts from the National Museum of Jamaica and the National Gallery, as well as the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment& Sport, while working with several of its related agencies.

MASTER DEVELOPMENT PLAN

We wish to use this opportunity to reiterate that, in relation to Port Royal, the PAJ and the UDC have two distinct remits. The PAJ is responsible for the development of the Port Royal cruise ship port which in phase one, includes the collaboration with the JNHT on an extensive upgrade to Fort Charles, a key attraction in the town. In addition to this, as a socially responsible organisation, we have also sought to improve the infrastructure and the quality of lives of the people of Port Royal through three social projects: an upgrade to the infrastructure at the Port Royal Primary school, the rehabilitation of the old fisherman’s ferry pier in the town and the development of a sewage treatment facility for Port Royal in collaboration with the National Water Commission (NWC). The UDC, on the other hand, is responsible for the master development plan for the entire town of Port Royal.

The PAJ identified the SeaWalk, a recently developed technology for berthing large cruise vessels in similarly sensitive ecological environments. SeaWalk is a floating articulated mechanism (analogous to a jet-bridge at an airport) that is motorised and under electronic control, which unfolds to meet a ship that is anchored in a stationary position off the shore. As previously advised, the SeaWalk was manufactured elsewhere and transported to Jamaica. The PAJ is not building a floating pier. The Port Royal cruise port development is a fixed structure on land located at the Old Coal Wharf site which includes a terminal building and other permanent structures.

The SeaWalk technology facilitates the berthing of vessels in Port Royal without dredging and extensive infrastructural works typically required to construct a conventional berthing system. Geirangerfjord in Norway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which also uses a SeaWalk and is recognised by UNESCO for its outstanding focus on environmental protection, has a population of 250 and sees approximately 5,000 visitors daily. It may also be useful to note that Galapagos Islands off Ecuador’s mainland and Machu Picchu in Peru, areas with similar environmental sensitivities as Port Royal, receive approximately 220,000 and one million visitors annually, respectively.

The proposed site for the cruise terminal, the Old Coal Wharf, was selected based on a number of factors, including its previous use as a port from the 1800s. At that time, the British Navy used it as a port and for the repair of its vessels as well as for offloading coal for storage. In recent times it was used for docking and storage of aggregates for the expansion of the runway at the Norman Manley International Airport. It is also a safe distance from the sensitive areas, such as the Sunken City and historical town centre.

Its previous use as a port provides the ideal characteristics and adequate depth so there is no need for dredging. It has the requisite landside space to conduct cruise operations, including the dispatching of both water and land-based excursion tours without entering the town centre. The SeaWalk was recently transported to the Old Coal Wharf site where it has been installed. During cruise ship calls, the SeaWalk will unfold to meet the ship to enable passengers to disembark and access the cruise port facilities, participate in planned tours and visit the town.