Home Cruise Safely Are Cable Cars the Future for Cruise Piers?

A developer has proposed a unique cable car arrangement instead of a new controversial deep-water pier proposed by the government. The Grand Cayman’s is the fifth busiest cruise port in the Caribbean according to recent reports, but it’s losing ground to other destinations. One of the factors is the fact that it’s the only one in the top destinations that requires tendering. While the Grand Cayman’s are considered the fourth most popular country behind Bahamas, Mexico and Saint Maarten, the new 6,000 passenger cruise ships cannot call on the island. The amount of time it would take to tender up to 6,000 passengers followed by any crew that want to go ashore would mean unacceptable wait times. As more of these mega-ships start sailing and smaller ones are retired, or moved to other locations, the number of guests to Grand Cayman will drop.

The Georgetown Harbor, where the cruise ships make their ports of call, is very shallow, near the shore, and has extensive coral growth. An Environmental Impact Study states the underwater resources of the harbor bring in $19 to 22 million a year in revenue, mostly from shore dives and glass bottom boat rides. Currently, cruise ships anchor off shore with extra distance from shore to allow the ship to react to currents and wind. Guests are brought by small boats called tenders to the docks in the center of the city’s waterfront. Last year, a harbor pilot directed a cruise ship to a wrong location and the ship did more than a million dollars worth of damage to a reef when it dropped anchor.

The government has proposed to build a cruise ship dock large enough for the largest of the ships currently sailing and planned. However, the plans will require that fifteen acres of reef and associated habitat be destroyed by the dredging to make the harbor deeper and for the piling.  Up to an additional 20 acres of coral habitat at two nearby reefs are expected to be heavily damaged from the silt and debris put into the water during the 36 month long construction period. Some environmentalists say those reefs will take decades to recover and place a price tag of lost revenue at somewhere between $100 and $165 million over the course of 20 years.

The project is expected to cost $170 million, with an additional $70 million to offset environmental damage. The dredging and building of the piers will take about 36 months. This project is a hard sell for the government. While an estimated 500,000 more visitors will visit if the piers are installed, not all are in favor of the project. At public hearings about 75% of those attended are against the project and surveys show similar numbers. The tourism industry, which has the most to benefit from the additional guests, is also split on the issue. Projects like these are mostly funded by the cruise line, who are repaid by reduced docking fees. However, none of the cruise lines have endorsed the project and a couple have unofficially said they cannot accept the amount of environmental damage.

The Next Development and the GreenTech group has presented an alternative plan to the government and other concerned groups. The plan called the “Cayman SkyBridge” calls for the construction of two piers which will each be able to dock two cruise ships. The piers will be located close to shore but in water deep enough for the cruise ships. These off shore piers will be connected to the shore by cable cars. There will be two sets of two line cable cars on each pier and they will have 43 cars. Each car would hold 15 passengers and the trip to shore would be three minutes. Currently, it can take between 15 and 20 minutes for a tender to reach shore once loaded. The system would be able to move 20,000 passengers an hour from each pier. The cost of this project is estimated at $150 million and would be completed in 18 months.

The major groups on both sides of the issue have stated that the proposal is worth exploring.

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