Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Cruise shipping blooms in Jamaica

Published:Tuesday | February 21, 2017 | 2:00 AM
The Aida Luna, a vessel which homeports in Jamaica, seen here in Montego Bay.

Home porting potential in Jamaica

The cruise sector is doing very well, with vessels calling not only on the traditional north coast ports, but in Kingston as well. However, there is greater potential for the sector through home porting.

Montego Bay currently has the only port in Jamaica that facilitates home porting. This is when a vessel is based at a particular port and the entire crew and all the guests enter and leave the vessel at that home port. The expansion of home porting would benefit Jamaica in several significant ways. An increased number of cruise ships could have a positive impact on Jamaica's economy, with a vast number of passengers coming through our airports to begin and end their cruise vacations.

Additionally, chairman and CEO of Lannaman & Morris (Shipping) Limited Harriat (Harry) Maragh said in February 2017 that employment and the possibility of local produce being purchased would be a huge gain for Jamaica. According to him, home porting "brings a lot of foreign exchange into the country. Passengers are coming in, they board the vessel, they cruise and come back to MoBay, in particular, where they disembark and new passengers fly in".

It also sparks a greater need for ground transportation (to and from the airport) due to the increase in the number of flights in and out of the country. This, along with more charters coming in to provide supplies for the ships, would create more jobs at the airport. Home porting also requires persons to load vessels with food and other supplies, which would also boost employment.

Despite the many possibilities, it must be admitted that the journey to economic growth through home porting can be complex. Maragh indicated that in the world today, there are about 14-15 cruise lines, of which only about five or six do home porting in Jamaica. To increase the home-porting potential, the attractions need to be improved. He does not see much more home porting coming to Jamaica given our current circumstances. "We are limited in the berth space and the ability to accommodate a home porter, which involves the transfer of passengers, transfer of goods from their home country to the ship, etc."

ADDITIONAL VESSELS

Although the potential rewards are evident, more investment is needed to improve the port facilities. Maragh added that there are plans to bring additional attractions to Montego Bay. "The port itself needs to be modernised."

The Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) has expressed its intention to improve the Montego Bay Port by investing some US$40 million. The upgrade would give rise to the transformation of the terminal into a multi-function port to bring it in line with the high demand for home porting.

With Montego Bay as the only home port in Jamaica, it only gives rise to the question of just how much more the country could gain with another. Falmouth is a popular cruise destination, and it is natural for some to consider it. Some persons even look to the south coast and its potential to be the next frontier for home porting in the long run and encourage investment here.

However, according to Maragh, it would not be economically viable to expand another port in Jamaica to accommodate home porting as the country would need at least one cruise ship in the port per day. He pointed out that this happens in winter, but in the summer, there is a drastic decline.

Ocho Rios is a very alluring port, and the tourists only need to travel approximately 10 minutes to explore attractions. The PAJ is exploring the Reynolds Pier, which is next door to the Ocho Rios port, to convert it into a berth that could hold additional vessels.

The benefits of an increase in home porting are significant and could be a game changer for the country as it looks to new areas for economic boom, and although steps are being taken, much more can be done to accommodate this. "I wish Jamaica would get their act together so that they could supply more of the goods that the lines require, especially the fresh produce, because a lot of it still comes from Miami," Maragh said.

Despite the challenges, Maragh shared that cruise shipping in Jamaica is blooming. "Right now, Jamaica is going through a pretty good period with not just home porting, but cruise shipping on a whole. I've never seen it so good for a long time, and the bookings from this year into next year are fabulous."