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More Cruise Ships Likely to be Turned Away In Coming Year

WICO board member Pash Daswani leans back in his chair while addressing the WICO’s board of directors at Monday’s meeting. (Source photo by Bethaney Lee)

Seven scenarios in WICO’s cruise ship schedule for the season starting Oct. 1 could result in ships full of passengers ready to visit the island of St. Thomas being turned away.

Director of Marine and Cruise Operations Mark Sabino tells the WICO board about potential problems in the coming tourist season. (Source photo by Bethaney Lee)
Director of Marine and Cruise Operations Mark Sabino tells the WICO board about potential problems in the coming tourist season. (Source photo by Bethaney Lee)

During a meeting of WICO’s board of directors, Director of Marine and Cruise Operations Mark Sabino said things such as berth size, Port Authority contracts, and scheduling conflicts create a perfect storm for the possibility of losing tourism revenue.

Port Authority’s dock cannot handle all the Royal Caribbean International ships they are contracted to receive because of limitations on the berth sizes at Crown Bay, which can only handle cruise ships up to 1,045 feet in length, Sabino said. WICO can be called upon to accommodate these contracted ships but sometimes lacks the ability to shift ship traffic. That means the territory would have to turn away a ship, something Sabino said is already being planned for the upcoming year and has been done in the past.

Four of the seven conflicts Sabino discussed are directly related to being oversized for the Crown Bay dock “and of the four oversize conflicts, one we have to release and send the ship away,” Sabino said. Because of how arrivals and departures work, he said, in addition to oversized ships, a Norwegian Cruise Line ship had been sent away in January because it could not navigate the channel as another ship was protruding into it, “creating a navigational hazard.”

“That left the territory with an empty berth,” Sabino said, because there were five ships ready to dock and only four were received.

But this isn’t just a problem that is occurring but one that will continue to occur if not met with change.

“For us at WICO and for the territory, as we go down the road coming, there are more ships coming and very few of them are under 1,100 feet. Everything coming out now is over 1,065 feet and up to 1,100 feet,” Sabino said.

He added that dates for the upcoming year “are already in conflict and the territory may have a situation again where we are left with an empty berth.”

Board Chairman Joseph Boschulte said the island’s popularity is impacting its ability to handle the traffic.

“St. Thomas, as a cruise destination, has reached the point where because of the length and size of the ships, it is starting to impact our capacity,” Boschulte said.

Boschulte said that year after year the calls from cruise lines wanting to dock on the island are down, as are passenger numbers, and this is why additional berthing is needed. St. Thomas “has not adapted to the changing of industry dimensions in terms of size of ships … We need to recognize as a marquee destination that we are no longer in the late ’90s or early 2000s and that competition in the region is tremendous.”

But board member Pash Daswani said it wasn’t just about berth size but also about contracts.

“Royal Caribbean has sent a clear message to the island that, yes, we are under contract with Crown Bay, we are not happy with Crown Bay and hence we are going to bypass you and go to other ports. That message has been loud and clear and if our board does not get that then we are living in la-la land,” Daswani said.

Board Secretary Roosevelt David said he is “pleased the governor has already signed the permit and sent it down to the Legislature but that we have to understand that the hour is getting late,” as he was told some 120 new ships were being built and ports all over the Caribbean are vying to dock them.

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  1. We Really can’t blame the cruise line industries. Every year it is the same set of excuses. Meanwhile, other island are developing their docks and piers and we are sitting around scratching our heads. The competition is increasing and the race is on and we are still at the starting line. Move! Do something! Stop focusing on what $400 bed sheets to choose, what kind of gate I need the Government to pay for and do something……anything ! Looking back never helped anyone and except to keep your eye off your goal!

  2. I’m sure I’m in the minority, but I don’t think limiting the size of the ship that can dock in St Thomas is a bad thing. These monstrous new ships bring 7-9 thousand passengers and crew at a time. Can our infrastructure really handle this influx of people? Maybe this is an opportunity for St Croix? The pier there is huge and F’sted is ripe for development. And why couldn’t Port Authority and WICO be combined as one entity? That surely would eliminate scheduling conflicts? I know, change is anathema to some people, but it usually yields positive results.

      • Could it be because F’sted proper is a run-down and unwelcoming place? Also a little scary once one ventures beyond the immediate waterfront area. The pier is just that-an arrival point, not a destination. As I said, I believe F’sted is ripe for development. And I have recently visited there and saw some positive things going on-a new boutique hotel, new restaurants, and the fort is worth a visit. For some reason, even in its decrepit state, I like F’sted and can appreciate its broken-down charm and its potential. People need to be encouraged to polish it and MAKE it a welcoming destination. No need for cruisers to go to crowded C’sted.

  3. Talking about the sheer stupidity of some to establish TWO super costly separate government departments competing against each other.

    The entire thing should be brought under one umbrella. Having two government entities officially fighting against each other for the very same yankee dollar is logically counterproductive and hurts our economy, our relationships with the cruise lines and makes us look like like a two-bit destination with ignorant leadership.

    Consolidate the two operations under the VIPA, and let WICO manage retail and real estate operations etc. A no brainer to those with a set of thinking (no, not drinking) cells.

    Also, look at the photo at the top of this article. Is there even ONE person there under 60 years old? New brains bring new ideas, and are hopefully not corrupt or

    We need fresh meat!!

  4. How about quality over quantity?
    Cruise ship passengers are here today, gone tomorrow to another destination with better prices, quality of shops and infrastructure. STT looks like a run down, trash strewn mess.
    Do we really want to have 4 ships or more with 9,000 visitors each a day in port?

    • My point exactly in comments above. St Thomas harbor has its limitations, which if not modified to accommodate larger ships, will, I believe, be better for St Thomas in the long run. Every time they dredge either Long Bay or Crown Bay, they irrevocably change the underwater environment. And that cannot be good. St Croix’s pier CAN accommodate the larger ships, which could and should prove to be a turning point for the STX economy. That is, if F’sted is cleaned up, restored to its former glory, and marketed as a new destination. The waterfront alone is a natural draw for divers and snorkelers. There is a beach within walking distance of the pier! There are wide open spaces for people to walk and explore. Rainbow beach is right down the road! So much could be done to make F’sted a world class destination. I cannot fathom why the local government does not see this. I hope their hesitation is not motivated by fear of gentrification. Stacy Paskett’s office is located on the Main Street for Pete’s sake. Does she not see the blight, as well a potential, all around her? Even an appropriation of a few hundred thousand dollars could help with basic cleanup and signage, benches, more trees. Come on!

  5. Realtors call St Croix the Sleeping Giant of the Caribbean. Why? Because of it’s potential! It is beautiful place but unkept and rundown ! Government and people have not invested in preserving its beauty, resources or historical buildings. So much potential! So much beauty! So much culture! Outsiders see the beauty, and the potential but not our government! It is only when someone takes it away that we realize what we have lost. Then it is too late for regrets. Sad.

  6. I arrived on St Thomas in October of 1972 with Fountain Valley in the news. St Croix never recovered. Why ? During my ten years (of living and working) on St Thomas I observed governmental ineptness on a regular basis. I saw Knut Hansen Hospital lose it’s accreditation. I saw roads deteriorate to unusable conditions. I saw the NEW HOSPITAL meet the same fate. My sister spent a week there in a bed in a hallway. The bad decisions and corrupt behavior of both elected and appointed government officials was nearly continuous during my 6 year period and 4 year period living in my favorite place in the world. And I lived in many good ones.
    I had to leave for good when medical care was compromised with the loss of accreditation of Schneider Hospital.
    It often took an hour to drive home from town to Red Hook. I drove past the BRIDGE TO NOWHERE twice each day on the way to and from work. If anyone in government does not realize that Tourism is the life’s blood of the Islands, they need to be out of government.
    Of course I did not go to town on 6 and 8 and 10 cruise ship days. I smiled at the economic health that the ships brought to the islands. WhenI visited St Croix I went to Christiansted. Why would I go to Fredericksted, except to drive through to check out its status? Tourists do not want to go to Fredericksted either, now or then. I stopped there on a cruise 10 years ago and only drove though on my way to Christiansted. 47 years after arriving on St Thomas I still follow the news there actively. I am concerned, worried, afraid for the Virgin Islands. Hard work and good decisions are needed NOW.
    Good luck.