April 28, 2002 – Between now and next Oct. 30, St. Croix is at present scheduled to receive one visit by one cruise ship, the Carnival Triumph, on May 11.
With Carnival Cruise Lines removing St. Croix from its itineraries for the Triumph and its sister ship, the Carnival Victory, the Port Authority's schedule for Frederiksted through June 2003 now adds up to 66 calls, down from what would have been 119. Here's what's they are:
The Zuiderdam, a brand-new cruise ship that will make its debut in November, is to make 27 calls between Nov. 5 and June 24, 2003.
The Constellation, also new and scheduled for delivery in May, is to call 21 times between Nov. 17 and April 6, 2003.
The Norwegian Sky has eight scheduled visits, between Jan. 4 and April 12, 2003.
The SeaDream I, a luxury megayacht formerly known as Seabourn Goddess I that is undergoing refurbishing at present, also has eight planned visits, Nov. 4 through Dec. 23.
In addition, two vessels are booked for single calls — the Carnival Destiny on a charter cruise on July 20, and the Aida, on Nov. 19.
There have been reports that the two Carnival ships accounted for about one-third of the total cruise traffic to St. Croix in terms of port calls; a more accurate figure is 45 percent. But even that is misleading, because none of the remaining ships are anywhere near as large as the two that were canceled last week.
The Triumph has a capacity of 2,766 passengers (double occupancy, the standard for calculations) and 1,150 crew. The Victory can carry 2,758 and 1,100, respectively.
The Constellation will be able to carry 1,950 passengers. The Zuiderdam, which was designed to provide more spacious accommodations, including private verandahs for two-thirds of its staterooms, will have a capacity of 1,848 passengers. Crew figures could not be obtained for these two vessels.
The Norwegian Sky can accommodate 2,002 passengers and 750 crew. The SeaDream I carries 110 guests and a staff of 89.
Carnival Cruise Lines is owned by Carnival Corp., which also owns several other cruise companies including Holland America, which owns the Zuiderdam. Holland America had St. Croix on its itinerary until this past year, when it pulled out, The West Indian Co. announced last fall.
While last week's cancellation announcement from Carnival Cruise Lines referred only to the Triumph and the Victory, it remains to be seen whether the corporate entity will leave the one call by the Destiny and the 27 bookings for the Zuiderdam undisturbed.
The Constellation is owned by Celebrity Cruises, which is owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Royal Caribbean and Carnival Corp. signed a letter of intent with the Port Authority last summer to invest $31 million expanding the Crown Bay dock on St. Thomas and developing an adjacent shopping center. In March, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull announced that he was instructing VIPA to cancel the deal. Meanwhile, since last winter, Carnival and Royal Caribbean have been battling to take over another company, P&O Princess Cruises.
The Aida is a German cruise ship owned by P&O.
SeaDream I is half the ultra-luxury fleet of the SeaDream Yacht Club, a new venture formed by the man who founded Seabourn Cruise Line and his associate who was its president and later president of the merged companies Cunard-Seabourn. Seabourn and Cunard are owned by Carnival Corp. today.
Last year, St. Croix had fewer than 200,000 cruise ship passengers, compared to some1.7 million who visited St. Thomas, according to Port Authority statistics. Last summer, WICO announced that the number of scheduled St. Croix calls would be 103 for the 2001-02 season, down from 154 a year earlier, in large part because of the Holland America pullout.
Hardly any cruise ships calling at Frederiksted pay port fees. That's because the Port Authority waives the St. Croix fees for vessels that call at both St. Croix and St. Thomas.
According to Rick Moore, former chief economist for the territory, cruise ship passengers spends an average of about $175 at each port of call. He estimated that Carnival's withdrawal from St. Croix will mean a loss of about $34 million a year to its economy.
Carnival Cruise Lines confirmed the pullout last Wednesday, in the midst of the finale week of V.I. Carnival celebrations on St. Thomas. That timing may account for the dearth of public response initially. The first politician to issue a pronouncement was Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II, a Crucian, who on Wednesday faxed six pages of documents to the news media. The second was St. Croix Sen. Emmett Hansen II, who issued a release on Friday. Another was gubernatorial aspirant Michael Bornn, who circulated a letter to editors, also on Friday.
Action and reaction
Last Dec. 27, Gordon Buck, Carnival Cruise Lines director of port operations, sent a terse memo to Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards, copied to Turnbull, James, Police Commissioner Franz Christian and the top officials of the ships' agents for the territory, The West Indian Co. on St Thomas and Merwin Shipping on St. Croix.
Buck said he was writing "to assure that you are aware that recently Carnival Cruise Lines guests and crew visiting St. Croix have been exposed to muggings and robberies." He cited four reports in the preceding two months. "Reports have been filed with the authorities; however, incidents continue to occur," he said. "Due to this persistent problem, our Marketing Department has already begun investigating alternative ports to substitute for St. Croix." He said it would be in Richards' "best interest to look into the situation and advise what measures will be instituted to curtail such unfavorable circumstances."
At last Tuesday's regular Port Authority board meeting, Richards, whose portfolio as Tourism commissioner includes chairing the board, stated that Carnival "may go as far as to make a decision about whether they want to continue porting on St. Croix at all." Media reports the next day quoted a Carnival's public relations person as saying that the decision was to go. The Victory was in port at Frederiksted that day, which would be its last. The Triumph was scheduled next to arrive on May 11, and that would be its final call.
In response to Buck's Dec. 27 memo, Police Chief Novelle Francis characterized the reported incidents as "stuff that could have been avoided." He said he was too short-staffed to be able to beef up patrols in high-traffic areas when cruise ships are in port.
Assistant Police Commissioner Bruce Hamlin said last Tuesday that Richards had taken her concern about the crime incidents to Christian as recently as "two or three days ago."
It's Turnbull's fault, James says
The first page of James's media package was a release in which he expressed his disappointment at the decision "and the negative impact it will have on St. Croix's feeble economy." He laid the blame squarely on "the lack of urgency by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull towards addressing issues adversely affecting St. Croix's overall growth."
James stated in the release that he "was not kept abreast of the series of criminal activity plaguing the tourist industry," saying he "first became aware of the incidences involving Carnival" via Buck's Dec. 27 memo. He said he wrote the governor the next day expressing his concern — and provided the media a copy of that letter.
In it, he told Turnbull, "As you may recall, in August I recommended the implementation of an Anti-Violence Task Force to be chaired by myself. However, if my memory serves me correctly, you stated that a Task Force was already in place. Unfortunately, to date I have yet to be made aware of any measures the Task Force has initiated."
James recalled having spoken with Buck at the 2000 Seatrade convention in Miami about the tourist experience St. Croix could provide Carnival passengers, including the development of the St. Croi
x Heritage Trail. "It was somewhat alarming at that time," James wrote, "to find that although Mr. Buck was excited about what St. Croix had to offer, he was more concerned with an incident that occurred during the port call of the Carnival Destiny. In that incident, several crew members were assaulted in the vicinity of the basketball court adjacent to Fort Frederik."
His message to Turnbull was that "unless something is done post-haste about crime, the economic infrastructure put into place by previous administrations and Legislatures will fail to have any meaningful significance."
Cruise line sent at least three signals
The lieutenant governor provided a copy of Buck's Dec. 27 memo to Richards and also two others — dated Feb. 20 and April 16.
In the February note, the cruise line executive noted an "additional mugging and robbery incident since our meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 23," in Miami "to discuss initiatives being implemented to address this serious issue of crime against cruise ship visitors." He said a passenger was mugged and robbed "while shopping with his wife at Christiansted" and told Richards, "despite your initiatives, we continue harboring grave concerns in association with our vessel calls to St. Croix."
In the April memo, Buck told Richards of two further assault and robbery incidents that occurred while the Victory was in port on April 10. "One instance involved a daylight armed robbery of a crew member … a short distance from the ship," he said. "The other case was an evening beating and robbery of a guest … near the Harbour Night Festival." Both were reported to police, he said. This memo concluded that Carnival was "deliberating upon alternatives to St. Croix for our vessel itineraries."
Hansen in his release distributed on Friday said, "No one can convince me that this state of affairs could not have been mitigated." He noted that at an April 4 hearing on police anti-crime initiatives by the Senate Government Operations Committee, which he chairs, "the police officials made no mention of any new efforts or initiatives to fight crime against any of the tourists or cruise line personnel."
He further noted that the territory's long-term agreement with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association provides for increased cruise ship visits to St. Croix once the island improves its marketability. "There hasn't been a single meeting to make that happen," he said.
He also put in a plug for his proposed Urban Revitalization Act, which would provide funding and authority for the government to improve blighted island areas. He said a hearing on the measure is scheduled for Thursday on St. Croix before his committee (although this week's legislative calendar doesn't show it). "We need to get our towns repaired for us, too," he said.
Was crime the 'out' Carnival was looking for?
Bornn, who served as acting Tourism commissioner for several months in 1999, advanced the argument that the cruise lines never particularly wanted to put St. Croix on their maritime map in the first place, but did so because of "the lure of the Port Authority waiving docking fees, even though there was no market demand for St. Croix. They went on the condition that demand would be increased to justify their move." However, he said, "little was ever done by the V.I. government to increase demand; thus Carnival has been looking for an out."
While Carnival invoked crime as its reason for pulling out, Bornn said, "crime is bad in several [other] Carnival destinations, including St. Thomas and Puerto Rico, but the other destinations mitigate the problem with robust market demand and other crime-fighting techniques."
Nonetheless, "The Virgin Islands did not respond in a satisfactory manner" to Carnival's not-so-veiled threats citing St. Croix crime, he said. "The bottom line is plain and simple: Not enough was done to mitigate the concerns of our travel partner."
But Bornn says it's not too late. He's calling for making dialogue with the cruise lines a top priority, followed by developing and implementing a marketing plan, upgrading hospitality services, continuing to waive port fees while offering further economic incentives, and addressing crime and its causes.
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