Nov. 14, 2002 – A sight for sore eyes will appear at the Frederiksted waterfront on Sunday as Celebrity Cruises' 1,950-passenger Constellation makes the first of 21 weekly calls on St. Croix scheduled for this season.
It will be the first time a major cruise ship has visited the island since last April, when Carnival Cruise Lines took St. Croix off its itinerary. And it is the only major passenger vessel scheduled to make regular calls to the island this season.
Representatives of the three cruise lines that canceled calls to the island earlier this year have said they will not put St. Croix back on their itineraries unless and until the island addresses two key issues — crime against passengers and crew, and what they describe as St. Croix's low marketability.
Last June, executives of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association and its member lines met with local government and private-sector representatives for several days, hammering out plans that included bringing the Constellation, Celebrity's newest ship, to St. Croix on a trial basis.
A year ago, Carnival Cruise Lines' director of port operations, Gordon Buck, began writing to V.I. government authorities about passengers and crew members being robbed. He wrote in December and in February and, finally, in April, when Carnival announced that its Triumph and Victory would discontinue their semi-weekly calls at St. Croix.
After that announcement, Police Commissioner Franz Christian wrote to Buck saying that the Police Department had implemented several initiatives geared at safeguarding tourists. "We have saturated the outlying beaches, the rainforest, the town areas of Christiansted and Frederiksted with peace officers from several law-enforcement entities in an effort to provide comprehensive coverage of the island during port calls," he said in the April 22 letter.
In May, however, Norwegian Cruise Line announced that it was canceling eight calls by the Norwegian Sky that had been scheduled for this season. And in June, Holland America announced the cancellation of the 43 calls scheduled for its new ship Zuidendam. That left the Constellation as the only large ship calling regularly, with 21 visits scheduled between Nov. 17 and April 6, 2003.
Security game plan's the same
Christian said on Thursday that the security game plan has not changed for Sunday's visit and that he is optimistic that things will go smoothly. The tab for having extra law-enforcement officers on duty, including personnel from the Port Authority, Planning and Natural Resources Department, Territorial Court Marshals and Housing Authority, is being picked up by the Port Authority.
Christian and other police officials have said crimes often occur because visitors wander into dangerous areas in search of illicit drugs or sex. "It is very difficult to curb incidents where passengers or crew venture from the security of well-traversed areas and inexplicably seek out clandestine locations," the commissioner said in his April letter to Buck. "I am routinely advised by my officers of having to caution, even admonish visitors about venturing in unfavorable areas, only for those persons to surreptitiously return moments later."
He said on Thursday that more officers will be on duty in such areas on the days ships are in port. "We want to ensure that our tourists get treated as friendly as possible," he said, adding, "Those who try to do otherwise will be caught; the long arm of justice will be there."
Christian noted that some Frederiksted private-sector organizations are getting involved in efforts to help keep the tourists safe. Our Town Frederiksted donated additional bicycles for patrolling officers, for example. "Everybody wants to help make this a success," he said.
Unise Tranberg, president of the Frederiksted Economic Development Association, said it's a matter of do or die for the private sector. All of the businesses in town are feeling the economic pinch from the lack of cruise ships, she said.
According to Tranberg, who owns Pier 69 Restaurant, "Five businesses in Strand Court alone have gone out of business."
At the June meeting with F-CCA and cruise representatives, Tourism Department officials agreed that the territory would come up with a comprehensive marketing plan for St. Croix to "grow demand" for the island as a visitor destination.
The department submitted its plan to Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., which owns Celebrity Cruises, at the end of August. As part of the plan, FEDA is sponsoring a cultural program for tourists that includes music by the Ricardo Richards Steel Pan Band, moko jumbies and masquerade dancers.
Meanwhile, at the start of September, a new community coalition called St. Croix Alive, made up of retailers, tour operators, restaurant owners and taxi operators, presented its own marketing plan to Royal Caribbean.
Short-term test, long-term outlook
Michael Ronan, Royal Caribbean Cruises associate vice president for destination development, said the Constellation's arrival will be a litmus test for the island's progress. "The short-term reality is that this will address any concerns that the community will be able to deliver the product," he said.
Sen. Emmett Hansen II, who hosted a series of town meetings to discuss the St. Croix tourism crisis, said he has doubts as to whether any major strides have been made since last spring. He said no major public outreach or community education efforts have been implemented to bring home the economic importance of the cruise ships, which represented an estimated $50 million a year in revenues.
"One of their biggest concerns was about passengers being robbed," Hansen said of the cruise lines. "We haven't had anything going on to change the mindset of those persons who prey on cruise ship passengers. We have to now look at preventative measures. Is it going to work? I don't know."
Hansen pointed out that the cruise industry officials were very clear about what they saw as changes needed regarding both crime and marketability: "They told us really clearly, if it's the same old same old, 'We're out of here.'"
Even a successful Sunday on St. Croix won't work miracles, though. If other cruise lines decide to send their ships to the island once again, they won't do so for at least another year. "The planning cycle is normally 18 to 20 months," Ronan said, and schedules through 2003 are already in place.
"We have to be realistic. In the planning cycle, these changes don't take place overnight," he said.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Croix Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.