The Port of Sydney is set to introduce a new berthing system at the Overseas Passenger Terminal which could double the capacity of the iconic wharf.
It will create jobs and produce a big income boost to the state from more overseas visitors.
The port authority has been under pressure for years from a burgeoning cruise industry eager to find room for more and bigger ships.
Australia has the greatest penetration of cruise passengers in the world, and in 2015 broke the million-passenger barrier.
But because almost all ships – especially those carrying overseas passengers – want to berth by the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House, the industry believes Australia is losing millions in revenue while only one ship a day can dock at the OPT.
But the new “stacking” system involves two ships using the terminal – one arriving in the early hours, and one arriving just after lunch.
It has the potential to double the almost 300 cruise ships a year that use the port.
The port has been constrained for years by one of its greatest assets – the Harbour Bridge.
Today’s modern family cruise ships can’t get under the historic structure to the $57 million cruise facility at White Bay.
Industry chiefs have been meeting with Sydney Ports over the past 13 months to try and resolve the issue.
Executive Vice President International Business Development at Norwegian Cruise Line met with them this month.
Norwegian has been complaining for years that it needs space to expand into Australia.
Mr Sommer told Cruise Passenger: “I actually met with the port officials yesterday. I think the port of Sydney is going to aggressively pursue options to make more space available and they are working on a plan they are going to be announcing in the next couple of months on how they are going to dramatically increase their capacity.”
Mr Sommer said Norwegian would come back with a decision on taking advantage of stacking in 60 days for its 2018, which would be announced in August.
As a result of the industry discussions, the authority has decided to introduce a new booking system for double stacking from July1. This will open up bookings for the coming three years – with a priority given to those making Sydney a homeport.
“Priority will be determined to a ship based on the volume of calls to Sydney – the higher the volume, the greater the priority,’’ Philip Holliday, chief operating officer of the Port Authority of NSW told Cruise Passenger this week.
“This system will allow all brands including new entrants to the market to be able to grow their business by committing a ship to the region e.g. Norwegian. Industry consultation began in January 2016.’’
Double-stacking in 24 hours at the OPT has recently been carried trialled.
On February 1, Seabourn Encore arrived 60 minutes after Emerald Princess left OPT.
Two of Sydney’s largest ships, Voyager of the Seas and Explorer of the Seas also completed back to back berthing movements on November 28 2015.
Mr Holliday said that facilities at the OPT have been upgraded to accommodate double stacking.
“The infrastructure is now well placed to support this initiative,’’ he said.
The huge benefits of double stacking would come into effect in 2019/20 when the OPT would see a “significant additional capacity created.’’
While the double stacking may be implemented earlier, the Port Authority is working towards the target date of 2019/20 to minimise disruption to the cruise industry and ships itineraries which are booked well in advance.
With double stacking, immigration officials would have to work double shift and it is likely that more jobs would be created, Mr Holliday said.
The industry now believes Garden Island Naval Base won’t be made available, and Port Botany will take decades to become viable.