Wed | Jan 16, 2019

Port Authority acquiring billion-dollar floating cruise pier for Port Royal - Pirate haunt set to become tourist destination under inter-agency collaboration

Published:Friday | March 16, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Gordon Shirley, president & CEO of the Port Authority of Jamaica.
A section of the Fort Charles heritage site in Port Royal.

For years, different interests have wrestled with ways to monetise the history of Port Royal as a premier sightseeing destination without harming its archaeological treasures.

Now, the Port Authority of Jamaica is about to take a stab at flooding the seaside township with tourists through investment in a floating platform for cruise ships, as an alternative to dredging the harbour to accommodate the docking of vessels.

Port Authority President and CEO Professor Gordon Shirley said Tuesday that the agency is acquiring a unique floating pier technology, SeaWalk, which it expects to implement in Port Royal by the first quarter of 2019. It will open a new cruise gateway to the ancient city and Kingston itself, creating a new tourist attraction in eastern Jamaica, he told the Financial Gleaner.

The agency is investing US$8 million, or J$1 billion, in the floating pier.

A day earlier, the Ministry of Tourism announced it was in discussions with AIDA Cruises, which is based in Germany, to position the historic Port Royal community, once a pirate haunt, as a viable cruise option. AIDA is operated by Carnival cruise line.

Both state entities have different portfolio responsibilities for the cruise sector - the tourism ministry to bring visitors to Jamaica, and the Port Authority to develop and manage cruise infrastructure.

Port Authority oversees four cruise ports, situated in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio, and Falmouth. The Port Royal pier will be the first floating platform ever to be deployed by the agency.

"The SeaWalk was selected because its unique design allows it to be installed without the need for dredging or driving of piles," said Shirley. It means that the mangroves and archaeological assets in the sunken city - deposited underwater after massive earthquakes - would be protected, he said.

SeaWalk is a three-segment pier capable of accommodating more than 2,000 passengers per hour disembarking from a single ship.

"It is unique technology that is presently used in a number of ports in Northern Europe, including Geiranger- a world heritage site; and the port of Nyn‰shamn - port of Stockholm," said the Port Authority president.

The Port Royal project is being executed collaboratively with other agencies.

"We have identified two possible locations for the SeaWalk in Port Royal ... one is at the old Coal Wharf and one that is closer to the town centre. The SeaWalk is designed to work at either location and we are working with the various governmental agencies to determine the final location," said Shirley.

"Port Royal is world renowned and a very historical site and as such, we are working with the Jamaica National Heritage Trust to ensure that the areas it has responsibility for are accessible - not the sunken city - and presented to visitors in an interesting and historically accurate way," he said.

There are no plans to install the floating pier technology anywhere else at this time, he added.

More than 1.9 million cruise passengers visited in 2017, a record for Jamaica.

Delano Seiveright, senior adviser to the tourism minister, says there are no projections yet on the potential number of cruise calls or passenger arrivals at Port Royal, but that the aim is to attract midsize ships one at a time. The ministry will be guided by the advice of the Port Authority, Seiveright said Thursday.

Shirley expects the business flowing into Port Royal to seep beyond that community.

"We also see Port Royal as the gateway to Kingston. So, much as how passengers arriving in our other ports go on tours beyond the port towns, we see the same happening in Port Royal," the Port Authority president told the Financial Gleaner.

"We believe there will be great interest in visiting the sites in Kingston and Spanish Town," he asserted.