Barbados is making a play for large cruise ships with plans for a terminal project in Bridgetown that would be capable of berthing the largest vessels in the industry and help Barbados to become a "hub" for ships in the Southern Caribbean.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Barbados-based SMI Infrastructure Solutions will partner with Barbados Port Inc. in the two-phase venture.

The government is banking on the new facility to attract more cruise ships, thereby increasing the revenue generated from cruise-passenger spending, and it hopes to become a hub for cruise tourism, according to George Hutson, minister of international transport and international business.

"Barbados' current port capacity is three megavessels and three smaller vessels, but this is at the expense of not being able to do cargo operations," said Ken Atherley, divisional manager of corporate development and strategy at Barbados Port Inc.

The new terminal will include dedicated cruise berths, a commercial development, homeport facilities, ground transportation support and cargo facilities.

"The potential benefits of this project reinforce the policy position of developing Barbados as a cruise tourism hub and of repositioning the country as the leading cruise destination within the Southern Caribbean," Hutson said.

Barbados' location, the most eastern of the Caribbean islands, 1,600 miles from the port of Miami and 570 miles from the port of San Juan, puts it at a geographic disadvantage for the numerous seven-day sailings from Florida and Puerto Rico. The largest ship calling on Barbados is the 2,758-passenger Carnival Victory, which operates eight-day cruises from San Juan.

Atherley said the Southern Caribbean remains underserved by the cruise industry.

"There is tremendous port unity to develop a Southern Caribbean hub to cross into Aruba and toward Panama and also into South America," he said.

Cruise tourism in Barbados in 2011 totaled 619,054 passengers, down 6.9% compared with 2010.

From January through June this year, passenger numbers remained essentially flat, at 387,161, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

Hutson said that the number of cruise ship calls in Barbados has decreased in recent years "as ships have become larger and require more dedicated berths with specialized infrastructure."

The island currently homeports 17 vessels a year that do full or partial embarkations, Atherley said. Most of those ships are either small vessels sailing for lines such as Seabourn, Silversea or Windstar or ships that cater to European clientele.

At the new terminal, cruise and cargo facilities would be separated. The proposed Sugar Point cruise terminal will be located along Trevor's Way, a bit south of the existing Bridgetown Cruise Terminal and a 10-minute walk from the capital of Bridgetown.

The initial phase, which will span two years, with a projected cost of more than $300 million, will include two cruise piers to accommodate four megaships, arrival and departure facilities and parking lots, Hutson said.

Phase two is expected to start in 2017 and will involve the construction of a third pier and the rollout of shopping outlets.


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