Ship ahoy! Port Royal game-changer

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Ship ahoy! Port Royal game-changer

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

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On Monday morning, January 20, 2020, the British people sailing into Port Royal were not the buccaneers of the 17th century and they did not come in on brigantines, frigates or galleons, some with their masts frightfully displaying skulls and bones.

As destiny would have it, the estimated 2,000 cruise passengers sailed into the waters of the historic town, on the ultra-modern Marella Discovery 2, the first cruise ship that is now to herald a new era for the fishing village sleeping on its potential up until now.

For decades, Jamaicans with a vision of how to monetise our historical assets agonised over the lack of seriousness about developing Port Royal to take into account the untold value of a past time when European powers contended on the Caribbean Sea for the largely unclaimed West Indian lands and treasures.

The world knows of Port Royal, especially through movies; reputedly “the wickedest city on earth”, a lair for pirates and buccaneers, and as home for the British Navy for 200 years. Most of the town was swallowed up by an earthquake in 1692, creating a sunken city about 30 metres underwater.

Administrations have come and gone, but always the talk was that we did not have the resources to undertake what every one seemed to agree was the tremendous potential to provide jobs and deepen Brand Jamaica through the development of Port Royal.

An attempt was made in the 1970s to recreate the pirate theme and ramp up tours to Port Royal with guides dressed in era fashion. But that quickly fizzled and in the ensuing years and the town became little more than a place for a Friday night lyme with the eating of fish.

On Monday the country saw how an Administration took a project seriously, moved beyond excuses as to why it could not be done, and did it. Politics aside, Jamaica will forever call the name of Andrew Michael Holness for his display of unblinking wisdom and determination on which the Marella Discovery 2 sailed into Port Royal…for the first time, at last.

Of course, we must be fair to the people who have cherished the dream for the longest time, the most well known of them Mr Robert Stephens, the former director of tourism, who, too, should be celebrated at this time.

And it should be clear that this is a project for the people of Port Royal and Jamaica as a whole. It is a game-changer which, if approached as a business, will bring vast benefits to our island through tourism.

We are excited at the prospect of tours of the town itself, bedecked with relics of its historic past, sidewalk cafés and bars, depiction of the period drama as we saw at Outameni, shops teeming with merchandise, and storytelling. All this will thrive on training and development of the people of Port Royal in preparation to receive guests.

The tours will spill over into Kingston proper and beyond to the old capital, Spanish Town, St Catherine. Flat Bridge, which is the only one of its kind; the Milk River Bath and the mineral bath in St Thomas, are all near enough to fit into the eight hours passengers are allowed on land.

Of great significance is that with the SeaWalk, or floating pier built in Europe, there was no need to dredge or drive piles, thereby minimising its impact on the area's fragile environment, which the Jamaica National Heritage Trust had always feared.

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