Garwin Davis, Sunday Gleaner Writer
The government will have to decide whether to appease cruise line officials by designating the Reynolds' Pier in Ocho Rios for cruise shipping only or continue losing billions annually in potential, revenue, tourism interests say.
Currently, the Reynolds' Pier is being used as a multi-purpose port to export sugar and limestone, and also for cruise shipping. The size of the port, however, is of major concern to cruise shipping interests, with Jamaica losing over 200 calls and an estimated $5 billion this year alone as a result.
Managing Director of the Jamaica Bauxite Mining (JBM) Coy Roache said his company would welcome the expansion of the facility "only if cruise shipping can coexist with other commercial activities."
The cruise lines, however, are adamant that they are only interested in a tourism-only port, even offering to be a partner in the expansion project. They continue to point to the fact that Jamaica, being on the same itinerary as the Cayman Islands, could easily be getting eight-10 ships per day and billions of dollars in much needed revenue.
The cruise lines carry an average of 3,000 passengers of which the government gets $US15 each for head tax. The JBM owns the Reynolds' Pier.
'We have told the Port Authority in all the meetings we have had that we are not against expanding the Reynolds' Pier to accommodate more cruise ships," Mr. Roache said. "The problem is that the tourism people want to have the facility for cruise shipping only and we want to continue to export sugar and limestone from the facility. If we can't come to an agreement, then the matter will have to be taken to Cabinet."
Minister of Transport Robert Pickersgill said the government is very much aware of the situation and is currently exploring all possible options.
"The government should decide," commented Kumar Sujanani, owner of the Gem Palace chain of duty-free stores in Ocho Rios.
Source of revenues
"It is a case of where we derive most of our revenues from; is it cruise shipping or other commercial activities? Eight ships per day would have over 15,000 people passing through Ocho Rios, enough to take care of all our problems."
Montego Bay, in the meantime, appears to be laughing privately, knowing fully well that it could be the direct beneficiary of Ocho Rios's mishaps. "Montego Bay will be getting our new ship the Liberty, come April 2007," an executive of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line who requested anonymity revealed.
"In 2009, if Ocho Rios doesn't get its act together another new ship, the Genesis with a carrying capacity of over 7,000 passengers will also be going to Montego Bay. Even the Freedom of the Sea, currently the largest ship in the world and slated to come to Ocho Rios, may end up staying in Montego Bay. All the tours are in Ocho Rios and that's where the cruise lines want to be. However, we cannot commit our ships to a place that obviously doesn't take cruise shipping seriously. Heaven forbid if a passenger is having a heart attack while the ship is docked in Ocho Rios. It is the only port in the Caribbean that doesn't have the drive-up to the ship facility where the passenger could easily be transported to a hospital or treated in an ambulance. This is frightening."