Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Cruise Ship Pullout Could Be an Economic Detriment To Caribbean Nation

A recent decision by Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines to drop Antigua and Barbuda from its seven-night Southern Caribbean cruise itinerary could cost the tourist-dependent nation more than $40 million, the country's tourism minister told reporters Tuesday. John Maginley, who is attending the Americas Conference, said he only learned last week via email that Carnival would no longer be anchoring its Victory ship in Antigua as of Jan. 3, 2010. Instead, the 2,758-passenger ship will be sailing to St. Maarten. ``There was no discussion, none,'' Maginely said. ``We're supposed to be partners in this thing, and all we got was an email sent to the agent in Antigua that Carnival is pulling its boat.'' Maginley has a meeting scheduled with Carnival on Thursday. He says before the cancellation, he had been speaking to Carnival about increasing the number of cruise ships visiting Antigua. He was told, he said, that it takes 18 months to two years to make such a decision. Maginley pointed out that the decision came three weeks after six Carnival Victory passengers were jailed in Antigua following a scuffle with police and claims by a local taxi driver that they had refused to pay a $100 taxi fare. The incident made international headlines with popular radio and TV personalities calling the Caribbean island a rogue nation, and accusing it of illegally detaining Americans. Maginley said the comparisons are unfair, and the passengers are being given due process in what is being considered a police matter. Further, he said, U.S. embassy officials have been in touch with the passengers who have been released and are awaiting a court appearance in Antigua. ``Until this date, they have not communicated to me as tourism minister ...saying they are pulling the boat,'' Maginley said.The Victory brings in about 150,000 passengers annually, and according to 2006 figures, each passenger spends an average of $115 on souvenirs and other purchases. The head-tax, alone, he said, adds about $500,000 to Antigua's government coffers. Carnival has denied that the decision has anything to do with the arrest of its passengers. Jennifer de la Cruz, spokeswoman for Carnival Cruise Lines, told The Miami Herald that the company had ``opted to take Antigua off the itinerary as of the beginning of January and replace it with St. Maarten. ``We had been looking at that itinerary for quite some time; we have not modified it in four years,'' she said. ``It is the only ship based in San Juan that does a southern itinerary. We occasionally change out ports of call.'' De la Cruz said: ``We do have another ship that calls in Antigua about once a month, Freedom, which sails out of Port Everglades. It will continue to call in Antigua.'' Still Maginley said the decision not only means a loss of almost 150,000 passengers but what is to prevent Carnival from canceling its other ships. ``The difficulty for us as a government is this: We built a new port that we have to pay for so that we can take in these boats and part of the long term plan is the commitment from cruise lines to come and do something,'' he said. ``If they pull out without any conversation, what do I tell the people who are financing the dock? It puts us in jeopardy.'' He added: ``I am concerned about Carnival, yes, but I am also very concerned about what is being said about Antigua around the United States as a result of this incident,'' he said. ``All I would like is an opportunity for fair and clear minds to discuss this issue and take it for what it was.''

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