A battle is brewing between tender operators and cruise ship operators in the wake of Cayman Marine’s price increase for transporting passengers to and from vessels in George Town harbour.
While both sides say they hope for negotiations to find an amicable resolution, lines appear to be hardening as each blames the other. Meanwhile, Cayman’s cruise arrivals have seen an overall decline since 2006 and may be increasingly at risk due to this dispute, industry officials fear.
Cayman Marine Services, which operates about 16 tenders in the George Town harbour, has proposed a 75-cent price rise per passenger in three phases throughout 2013 – the company’s first increase in five years – intended to address rising costs for labour, fuel, maintenance and materials. The initial 25-cent rise started on 1 January.
Carnival Cruise Lines has taken exception to the idea, and while the company declined direct comment, Michele Paige, president of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association, said the industry is “not happy” with the increases, suggesting it could “drastically affect” the number of ships and passengers arriving in Grand Cayman.
“The increase in tendering fees is going to severely affect the amount of tonnage coming into Cayman,” she said. “I’m not in a position to speak on behalf of individuals and members, only for the industry, but the industry is troubled. We have broken this down for the cruise ships, and we are looking to make things better and we need to start working on this.”
Adrian Briggs, who operates Cayman Marine Services, declined to discuss details of the dispute, saying only that they “are in the process of trying to negotiate this”.
“This is only a proposal and nothing is set in stone. We are always open to negotiations,” he said, observing that Cayman Marine, the cruise lines and the cruise association had always reached accord in the past.
While calling for negotiations, Ms Paige made clear the potential impact of the price rises. “This is a business and we are here to make a profit,” Ms Paige said. “If you have a 3,000-passenger ship, that is an extra $2,500 – and that doesn’t include the crew. If there are 50 trips per year, that is $150,000, and that erodes profit.”
Carnival Cruise lines has 227 arrivals scheduled for Grand Cayman in 2013. On Friday, Government Information Services announced the company had decided to cut Cayman services due to redeployment of ships to alternate routes and the lack of berthing facilities, citing a “desire on the part of cruise lines to not have certain ships serviced by cruise tender”.
Vance Gulliksen, public relations executive at Carnival, declined to comment, saying only “since the FCCA already commented, we’re going to defer to them on this issue”.
He would not be drawn on reports that the company had threatened to withdraw from Cayman all its 2013 arrivals. Cruise schedules are set at least two years in advance. However, with tickets having been sold and contracts having been signed, altering an itinerary becomes difficult.
Ms Paige suggested Cayman’s lack of docking facilities had already created problems.
“Because Cayman is a tendering port, the number of arrivals is already lower than elsewhere and already the lines are making less revenue every day,” she said. “Cayman has said nothing to us, only that they need to offset costs. The Cayman Islands are our partner and we look forward to working with them for improvements in facilities. Now is the time to move forward.”
Mr. Briggs’ Cayman Marine has operated since 1975, moving roughly 1.4 million passengers between cruise ships and the port in 2011 and nearly the same amount in 2012. While the 75-cent increase amounts to only 17 per cent since the previous adjustment five years ago, Ms Paige criticised Cayman Marine’s cursory notification of the rise.
“They did not decide this in consultations and gave it within less than 30 days. It will have a drastic effect,” she said.
Mr. Briggs declined to comment on the stern reactions among cruise lines and the cruise association, saying only that they had always found “common ground” previously.
The next increase is scheduled for June and the last for October.