VIPA Seeks to Dredge for the Biggest Cruise Ships

An overlay on the Crown Bay Harbor chart shows the size difference between a Freedom-class ship, top, and an Oasis-class ship. (Image provided by Amy Dempsey)
An overlay on the Crown Bay Harbor chart shows the size difference between a Freedom-class ship, top, and an Oasis-class ship. (Image provided by Amy Dempsey)

The V.I. Port Authority is looking to modify its permit with DPNR’s Coastal Zone Management to allow additional dredging, which would create enough navigational space for both Quantum-class and Oasis-class sized ships to be berthed at the Crown Bay Harbor at the same time.

If granted, the modification would allow a Quantum-class ship to be moored at the north side of the Crown Bay dock and an Oasis-size ship at the southern side at the same time. A Quantum-class vessel can carry more passengers than the Freedom-sized ships, creating additional spending in the territory, according to Amy Dempsey, president of Bioimpact Inc., a private company under contract with DPNR to monitor the operation.

Oasis-class ships are advertised as the world’s largest cruise ships, carrying more than 5,000 passengers. Quantum-class ships carry more than 4,900. By comparison, the Freedom-class cruise ships carry about 4,300 passengers.

Dempsey represented the Port Authority at Wednesday’s CZM meeting, telling the commission the Quantum-class ships can carry 535 more passengers than the Freedom-class.

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Two Quantum-class vessels porting each week of the six-month cruise season would bring the territory an additional 27,820 passengers and those tourists would, on average, spend $224 per passenger – totaling more than $6 million flowing into the territory per year.

The project details indicate that 2.7 acres would be impacted by the dredging and that the rock removed from the dredged locations will be placed in the notch of Crown Bay’s pier, extending its length.

CZM Chairman Winston Adams points to various sites on the map while Amy Dempsey of Bioimpact Inc. explains the studies. (Source photo by Bethaney Lee)
CZM Chairman Winston Adams points to various sites on the map while Amy Dempsey of Bioimpact Inc. explains the studies. (Source photo by Bethaney Lee)

Rock would not be the only thing removed, Dempsey said. Sea grasses and a total of 624 corals are within the dredging footprint or within the pier expansion and would have to be removed and transplanted elsewhere. Dempsey estimated that would take anywhere from four to seven months.

Though the coral can be transplanted, the 400-square-feet of sea grass that would be removed as a result of the dredging cannot be. Dempsey said the sea grass is surrounded by an invasive sea vine called halophila, so transplanting the sea grass would risk transplanting the invasive halophila as well.

“We are going to move all that we can. We are going to move the corals from the impact area, but we can’t move the sea grass and so what we are going to do is compensatory mitigation for that,” Dempsey said.

Compensatory mitigation is the act of offsetting unavoidable adverse impacts by performing tasks that will alleviate what could not be helped. In the case of dredging, Dempsey said Port Authority will clean various ocean beds to allow for growth of sea grass, which will negate the impact of the 400 square feet that would be removed as a result of the dredging.

The CZM commissioners heard the plan but voiced various concern about how large the ships were and if it was necessary to accommodate them.

Dempsey said she understood “they look like giant hotels on the water” but cruise lines are adopting the concept that bigger is better and soon “everything is going to be Oasis-sized.”

“That is what people don’t realize. It’s not like we are doing this just because we want big ships, the problem is what people (cruisers) want are all these super amenities. Like climbing walls and stuff that in order to afford that they have to make these massive ships. They are all getting big now … But that is what they are doing, and if we don’t go that direction, we will lose ships because they are pulling the older ships off the market,” Dempsey said.

CZM members did not vote during the public meeting and instead told Dempsey they would like the Port Authority to provide them with requests from cruise lines that have Oasis-class and Quantum-class ships that want to port in St. Thomas.

Crosshatching on the chart of Crown Bay shows proposed dredge sites. (Image provided by Amy Dempsey)
Crosshatching on the chart of Crown Bay shows proposed dredge sites. (Image provided by Amy Dempsey)
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