Work frenzy as Port Royal prepares for first cruise ship

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Work frenzy as Port Royal prepares for first cruise ship

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, January 18, 2020

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WITH just two day to go before Port Royal receives its first cruise ship work is progressing at a frenzied pace on the pier development at Old Coal Wharf, just outside of the entrance to the town.

Professor Gordon Shirley President of The Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ), which is developing the port, told journalists yesterday that the cruise ship lines have agreed to come to Port Royal, with the understanding that the pier is a work in progress.

“It is not a finished terminal, but it is in a state that is acceptable for having the ships come in,” he said yesterday morning during a media sensitisation tour of the development, and Fort Charles, one of the main attractions in the town.

Professor Shirley pointed to the development of the Falmouth pier in 2011, noting that its terminal building was not yet roofed when the first vessel arrived, and the shops were not usable.  

“Falmouth was not yet ready, but the cruise ships understand that with a new terminal you have to work out all the bumps, make sure that all the technologies work, all the systems work...so they're prepared to come even before it is fully ready on the understanding that their guests will nonetheless be safe using the terminal [and] traversing the town,” he explained.

Shirley said the construction of the landside facilities is “reasonably advanced”, including the terminal building which will be critical for the processing of arrivals.

Professor Shirley stressed that it has taken an “outstanding effort” by engineers to have the facilities in a state to accept the Marella Discovery II on Monday.

During the tour senior officers of The PAJ explained the various attractions that are being enhanced or developed within the town for the benefit of the visitors.

Historical sites such as Fort Charles is being redeveloped with new cannons and props, for example, to deliver the 17th century experience to visitors, who will be led on guided tours, featuring storytellers.

Additionally, a new giddy house offering is being developed with a guided tour and storytelling, and souvenir shop. The PAJ says full service cruise shipping operations will start in the 20/21 tourist season, but that for now four initial ship calls are planned to “introduce” the port to the market.

The pier is being constructed on a section of the former Royal Naval dockyard or “Old Coal Wharf”, which served the royal navy for over 300 years after which it was developed as a coaling wharf for visiting steamships.

One of the most impressive features of the pier is the seawalk, a newly developed floating berth, which is presently only used in Sweden and Norway.

The Port Royal seawalk would be the first of its type in this hemisphere, senior vice-president of engineering and port development at The PAJ, Mervis Edghill explained. “So we are indeed pioneers in so far as this system is concerned; it can be used to disembark passengers in approximately 10 minutes. It is safe because of its capacity and the floating pontoons,” he said.

 The floating berth, which can facilitate swift disembarking, and up to 3 000 passengers at a time, according to the PAJ, unfolds to meet the vessel, which is anchored offshore, and allows movement from the ship's gangway onto the pier and shore.

It is not intended for the pier to operate strictly as a point of entrance and exit for cruise ship visitors, The PAJ noted, as landside facilities will feature vending kiosks, retail shops, rest areas, and indoor and outdoor restaurants
While the authorities say the residents of Port Royal have been made an integral part of the process, with the Jamaica National Heritage Trust providing training of scores of persons in tour guiding, and storytelling some residents of the small historic town expressed concerns about the development.

Some have taken a wait-and-see approach, while others openly expressed their apprehension in Jamaica Observer interviews.

Strong concerns remain about housing, water, and sewage disposal, with some people questioning the flurry of activity around the port development, after years of being told that certain works could not be undertaken due to Port Royal's geological and historical sensitivity.

Some of those concerns are being addressed as a result of the pier development, including improved water supply by the National Water Commission, and connection to the modular sewerage plant, which will serve the port and provide, for the first time, a sewerage system for the town.


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