Berthing Pains

For the eighth consecutive year, Sydney Harbour has been recognized by readers of Cruise Passenger magazine as the best cruise port in the world. However, the New South Wales Government’s proposal to raise berthing fees for cruise ships docking in Sydney Harbour could see cruise lines avoiding ‘the best port in the world’ altogether.

Cruise liner currently pay a fixed hourly rate of $250 per ship to berth at Barangaroo or the Overseas Passenger Terminal. Staying for an average of 12 hours, each ship pays roughly $3,000. From July 1, 2013 the NSW Government will instead charge a per-passenger levy, which could inflate the cost of berthing by up to 3,700 per cent. The proposed levy for 2013 is $18 per person for a minimum of 1,200 passengers (even if there are fewer onboard). The fee will rise to $30 by 2015.

To put things in perspective, the largest ship currently in Australian waters, Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas, has a capacity of 3,800 passengers. Docking in Sydney Harbour will therefore cost $68,400 in 2013 and $114,000 in 2015. Needless to say, this is significantly more than the current cost of $3,000.

The Minister for Roads and Ports, Duncan Gay, says the cruise industry can afford the levies. He says it’s “only fair” that the cruise industry share the income generated by the cruising boom to help fund the improvement of Sydney’s ports and facilities. To justify the rate rise, Gay said recently, “We’ve been careful to put in a charge that we don’t believe will hurt the industry, but will enhance the product.”

While the Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) agree that a per-person levy would better reflect the cost of hosting bigger ships, TTF spokesman John Lee says they think the NSW Government’s proposed prices are too high. Instead Lee suggests charging one-third of the proposed amount, saying the current proposed rates would make Sydney the most expensive port in the world.

Corroborating Lee’s concern that prices are too high, Carnival CEO Ann Sherry said the company was already considering ways to counteract the price hike, including making fewer visits to Sydney. This is not a move any in the cruise industry would want to see. What are your thoughts?

Words: Riley Palmer