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Australia’s burgeoning cruise industry is pressing its case to persuade the New South Wales Government to take action over Sydney’s Harbour’s chronic capacity problems.

Carnival Cruise Lines, Australia’s biggest fleet operator, has revealed the Queen Elizabeth, the Cunarder to be based in Australia a first for the 179-year-old company, will be forced to homeport most often in Melbourne because there are no berths left in Sydney.

Cunard had hoped to homeport the liner in Sydney. Melbourne will gain millions of tourism dollars as a result.

Nothing wrong with that, of course.  Except that most overseas cruise lines want  a presence in Sydney because their passengers demand the Opera House and Harbour Bridge views.

But because today’s modern cruise liner is growing in size and can’t fit under Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Habour City is trapped.

There are only three immediately solutions: increase the capacity of the Overseas Passenger Terminal (OPT), share the Navy’s Garden Island facility or build a new facility at Botany Bay.

The State Government built the White Bay cruise terminal on the west side of the bridge, so only smaller ships can get there.

Sydney Ports has floated the idea of “double stacking” at the iconic OPT. But cruise lines are concerned about potential delays and the inconvenience of passengers asked to disembark as early as 5.30am.

Carnival Executive Chair Ann Sherry this week suggested a $213 million refit of the Garden Island Naval Base is an opportunity to solve the harbour’s congestion crisis.

“Sydney is the undisputed gateway to Australia and has the country’s most developed cruise market, making it the first choice for global cruise lines in terms of their itineraries and deployments,” Ms Sherry said.

“But their decisions are increasingly being influenced by the constraints forced upon them by congestion that is making them look elsewhere. Cunard’s preference was to sail Queen Elizabeth exclusively from Sydney for the line’s longest ever deployment in Australia for any of its current fleet of Queens but there were simply no more ‘parking spots’ available during this period.”

Department of Defence plans to upgrade two existing wharves at the Garden Island base. The cruiser and oil wharves are reportedly set for demolition to be rebuilt as a single wharf and an adjoining wharf will be extended.

Ms Sherry, who two weeks ago entertained the boss of the Australian Navy’s fleet on the Queen Mary 2,  said Defence and the Federal Government would be encouraged to take Sydney’s overall port congestion issue into account with the Garden Island infrastructure upgrade.

But the Navy presence in Sydney, which dates back to the foundation of the habour, is widely supported. And any attempt to move them would be greeted with protests.

In recent weeks, a series of senior cruise line executives have been interviewed by Cruise Passenger – starting with Norwegian Cruise Lines ‎Executive Vice President International Business Development Harry Sommer, and most recently Royal Caribbean’s president Adam Goldstein.

All have said Australia is missing out on millions in tourism dollars because of the shortage of berthing facilities in Sydney Habour. Few like NSW Ports’ “double stacking” plan, which would mean two ships use the facility each day.

Carnival Cruise Lines issues a statement saying: “In addition to the risk of losing cruise business to Melbourne and Brisbane, ‘double stacking’ risks making Sydney an unattractive port from the perspective of both local and international cruise passengers.

” Double stacking, where two cruise ships would do separate turnarounds at the Overseas Passenger Terminal on the same day, would involve significant inconvenience for passengers.

“EARLY MORNING ARRIVALS WOULD REQUIRE PASSENGERS TO BE UP WELL BEFORE DAWN, SHOWERED AND FED IN ORDER TO START LEAVING THEIR SHIPS AS EARLY AS 5.30AM.

“The evening turnaround would see passengers including children and the elderly having to embark late into the night with all passengers effectively losing the first night of their cruise.

“Either way, passengers will see ‘double stacking’ as an awful way to either start or finish a cruise holiday.

“It would also have knock on effects for the tourism sector more widely with cruise ship arrivals and departures out of synch with international flights and potential conflict with Sydney Airport’s curfew for passengers leaving ships at night.

“Cruising is one of the most successful and fastest growing parts of tourism but this proposal has little regard for the cruise passenger and also has little regard for the occupational health and safety of workers who would expected to work double shifts under this proposal.

“This idea is a makeshift solution because the authorities are yet to agree on a plan to support a growing cruise industry that delivers $3 billion to the NSW economy each year and $5 billion nationally.”

The NSW government has promised a new paper on how it will handle the massive expansion of the cruise industry. But there are limited options.

The new White Bay terminal is beyond the bridge – and most new ships won’t be able to fit under the iconic structure.

Mr Goldstein urged a public/private review of the options at Port Botany.

In unusually forthright comments on the political inertia over the harbour’s capacity, President and COO Adam Goldstein said the day had arrived when growth was being choked.

He said the $4.58 billion cruise industry – almost 70% of which flows to NSW – was still looking for a champion in the State Government.

Today, a spokesperson for the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight Melinda Pavey said: “The NSW Government is looking at all options to continue to bring as many cruise ships into Sydney as possible. The Government will consult with industry stakeholders about ways to boost capacity and keep the community informed.”

Joel Katz, managing director of the CLIA Australasia, the cruise line’s advocacy group, said:

“The growth of cruising throughout Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific is highly dependent on the infrastructure of Sydney which is the cruise gateway for the region, and the industry eagerly awaits the release of the NSW Government’s  25-year Cruise Plan for discussion.”

Port Authority of New South Wales