Australian cruisers could miss out on the growing fleet of super ships because of the stress on Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal and high port charges.
Sydney Ports has revealed it will need to add to the $22 million upgrade it undertook just 18 months ago with another mooring point on the wharf to accommodate The Ovation of the Seas.
Port charges are another issue likely to mean Australia, despite its amazingly high cruise numbers and growth, could find itself left out of the race for new ships.
Royal Caribbean, one of the world’s largest cruise companies, is saying that Sydney’s OPT is already one of the most expensive ports in the world for passenger ships to visit, which is making the city less attractive for lines to visit.
Royal Caribbean said that OPT had reached its capacity during the wave season despite the terminal facelift which included a mezzanine level and larger baggage storage areas.
The terminal was designed for ships carrying up to 3,900 passengers but now has to host cruise liners like Ovation of the Seas which will carry up to 4,900 cruisers.
CEO and Director of the Port Authority of NSW Grant Gilfillan told Cruise Passenger that the Port Authority would be building an extra bollard to be able to accommodate for Ovation of the Seas.
“While we were constructing the OPT, we were told that Ovation of the Seas would be sent to Australia. We made a decision to put the extra bollard in, closer to the ship’s arrival due to the fact that there was already so much stress around the construction of the OPT.”
Mr Gilfillan said that the OPT would have the capacity to cater for Oasis-class ships like Harmony of the Seas which have the capacity to accommodate for up to 6,000 passengers.
“The OPT does have the capacity in draft and length to cater for those big ships. But there would be a lot of stress on the surrounding areas. We have to look for other port locations east of the Harbour Bridge.”
And he conceded port charges may also need to be looked at.
Royal Caribbean recently pulled three ships from Brazil after higher taxes were imposed.
“The opportunity for growth in the Australian cruise market from the rapid expansion of cruising in Asia could increasingly be placed at risk if our cost base continues to rise with no correlation to reality, simply because it is thought that we will be able to continue to charge what we like”, Royal Caribbean said in a local report.
Sydney’s costs of $132 per passenger compare with $92 for the three key cruise ship ports in the US, and $72 for Auckland, according to Carnival Australia.
This would mean to dock Ovation of the Seas at OPT would cost Royal Caribbean $647,460 while in Auckland, it would cost $353,160.
Mr Gilfillan told Cruise Passenger said that if the body saw cruise lines pull ships out because of port charges, it would look at decreasing its prices.
“If we start seeing a trend of cruise lines pulling out because of port charges or a decline in cruise growth, then we will look at pricing. But so far, we haven’t seen this pattern.”
The other alternative, which is to turn ships around in the harbour at Athol Buoy would also be “prohibitively expensive, logistically challenging and inconvenient for passengers and crew alike,” said Royal Caribbean.
White Bay, which is Sydney’s smaller cruise terminal in the inner west may become obsolete as most new cruise ships can’t fit under the Harbour Bridge.
Carnival Australia, whose brands include P&O, Cunard and Holland America Line, said the number of ships berthing at White Bay was likely to drop in the longer term as cruise companies replaced older liners with larger vessels.
The company said port access and pricing for Sydney was of national interest because it was Australia’s “cruise hub”, and “the impacts will be felt in every state”.