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The newly opened Marina Bay Cruise Centre in Singapore is set to host the biggest cruise ships in the world. The first overseas visitor to the US$395 million terminal, on May 26, was Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas. With a capacity of 3,840 passengers and 1,176 crew, the ship is the largest of its kind to dock in Singapore, terminal operator SATS-Creuers Cruise Services said in a statement.

This will “pave the way for the newer generation of larger cruise liners to dock in Singapore and Asia, including Oasis-Class ships”, it said, referring to the world’s largest cruise ships. Cruise operators such as Celebrity Cruises and Costa Cruises are also scheduled to start deploying ships to the city-state in the next two years.

The opening of Singapore’s new international cruise terminal is a powerful reminder of how infrastructure investment is linked to the economic benefits of cruise industry growth. Singapore joins Shanghai and Hong Kong as three major Asian cities where authorities have invested strongly in new port facilities to attract cruise ship visits and turnarounds in the wake of the rapid expansion of cruising in the region.

Ann Sherry, CEO of Carnival Australia, which operates a combined fleet of P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises ships, said the developments in Asia underlined the competitive need to upgrade port facilities in Australia. “Cruising in Australia has enjoyed double digit annual growth for seven consecutive years including 2011 when nearly 625,000 Australians took a cruise holiday, 34 per cent more than in the previous year,” Ms Sherry said.

“However, such spectacular growth can’t be taken for granted because infrastructure gaps at ports including Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns remain the greatest threat to the continued growth of the local cruise industry.

“While cruise complexes in Asia are of much greater size and scale than contemplated for Australian ports, it is important to understand that high quality facilities will give Asia a competitive edge in making the most of the economic opportunities that cruising presents.”

Port infrastructure investment in Asia includes:

•            Shanghai – the Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal can currently accommodate three cruise ships at a time and has been progressively under construction since 2004

•            Singapore – the Marina Bay Cruise Terminal is a multi-use facility which will be officially opened this weekend generating an estimated 3,000 jobs

•            Hong Kong – a new international cruise terminal able to have up to two megaliners come alongside at the same time is due to open in mid-2013

Ms Sherry said Carnival Australia will continue to work with federal and state governments with a view to upgrading port facilities to support cruise industry growth and its economic contribution. In 2010-2011, cruising contributed $830 million to the Australian economy. “The need to upgrade facilities is particularly urgent in Sydney because of its key role as a cruise hub for Australia and the region,” she said.