The announcement of more than one million Australian cruisers makes us a world player in this important market. So it is high time we fixed the embarrassing problems of the cruise terminal at White Bay.
This week, Sydney Ports suspended overnight stays at White Bay, rekindling a debate about whether it ever was the right place to put a cruise terminal.
The overnight ban will be in place until next July, or until the Environmental Protection Authority comes up with guidelines on the use of fuels in our harbour.
The effect won’t be dramatic – and Carnival Cruise Lines is predicting it will all be over by the time Seabourn Odyssey arrives next February. We certainly hope so.
The reason for the ban is that cruise ships have been burning high-sulphur fuel because the lack of shore power means they need to keep their generators running. It has been practise to use low-grade, high-particle fuel for this purpose.
But White Bay is right next to a residential area and, not surprisingly, the noise and pollution has upset those living nearby.
NSW Environmental Protection Authority is working on new pollution control regulations. This work is long overdue. There are many overseas models it can use, and cruise lines like P&O have been working on “scrubbers” in the funnels that remove particles of pollution.
The residents, led by Leichhardt Council, urged the State Government to “put the community’s health first”. And, keen as we are on cruising, we can understand that.
Their cause has been backed by radio personality Alan Jones, which may explain the sudden action of the government implementing an overnight ban.
Ships will still be able to disembark passengers at the terminal, but will have to turn around in a day. But that doesn’t remove the problem – they still have to run their generators.
At the heart of the dispute is the government’s failure to put shore power into the $55 million White Bay facility. And it is probably too late and too expensive for that now.
Cruise lines like Carnival have long sought to have their ships moored at Garden Island, currently occupied by the navy. Royal Caribbean favours a facility at Port Botany, which is further from the city centre.
The cruise industry is a huge contributor to the state coffers. They should not be made to feel like pariahs. Nor should families have to suffer pollution.
The sooner the Port Authority of NSW and the EPA resolve this situation, the better.
In response to Cruise Passenger questions, Carnival Cruise Lines put out the following statement this morning: “With the cruise industry, Carnival Australia is working cooperatively with the NSW Government and the EPA in relation to new air-quality standards at NSW ports, keeping in mind that cruise ships currently operate well within existing air-quality standards. It is likely that this issue will have been resolved and overnight stays at White Bay resumed prior to the February 12, 2016, arrival of Seabourn Odyssey, which is the next ship across Carnival Australia’s fleets scheduled to overnight at the cruise terminal.”