The growing cruise industry in Australia and New Zealand relies on more than just cruise lines being willing to commit ships to the region, but on the cruise ports around the country and the South Pacific maintaining the necessary facilities for them to load and unload passengers. The big domestic ports like Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Fremantle and Auckland are especially important as they serve as ports of embarkation and disembarkation for many a cruiser heading off into foreign waters.
Recent headlines have outlined some troubles for two Australasian cruise ports. Fremantle (Perth) and Auckland serve as the cruise hubs of Western Australia and New Zealand respectively, and passengers from both places have cause for concern.
Fremantle Port Sale
The Western Australia State Budget for 2015-2016, released on the 14th of May this year, contained interesting news for all those who pass through Fremantle Port. As part of a wider tranche of asset sales with the goal of debt reduction, the State Government intends to sell the port through long-term lease.
Ramifications for shipping aside, concerns have come to light regarding the effect a privatisation of Fremantle could have on the cruise industry in Western Australia. A council paper, published on popular Fremantle blog Freo's View, expresses worries that the good and collaborative working relationship between the city and the port will cease under private ownership, as a commercial operator will likely not place the same priority on the tourism which benefits Fremantle greatly.
Currently, the state-owned port puts a lot of effort into attracting cruise ships and it is understood that lower fees are charged to cruise ships than to commercial shipping vessels due to the tourism boost they offer. A private company won't benefit from this and may put up barriers to the lines which frequent Fremantle.
At this point, it is all only speculation, but it makes sense that the privatisation of Fremantle Port will have ill effects on the cruise industry if the operator has no vested interest in promoting tourism to the region. We will watch this space!
Auckland Wharf Extensions
Plans to extend Auckland's Bledisloe Wharf have proved controversial this year, with the Auckland Council, the Ports of Auckland and protest groups warring over the intended additions. The Ports company requires more space and longer wharves for bigger vessels, while concerns from the opposing groups include harbour encroachment, bad design and interruptions to the tidal flow.
In a media release from April, the Ports of Auckland have welcomed a compromise which allows them to proceed with the construction of one wharf extension while putting the other on hold.
Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson said: "The proposal is a compromise. It's not our preferred outcome because of the impact on the cruise industry, however it's a pragmatic, workable solution to the current problem."
A more recent release from the Auckland Council, however, has revealed that permits for even the first extension have been overturned, and the future of the port is up in the air once again.
What impact on the cruise industry? It was originally reported after the canning of the second extension that the Ovation of the Seas, due to visit Auckland several times from December 2016, would no longer be able to come due to insufficient space for docking.
The Auckland Council confirmed that they have spoken with Royal Caribbean to find a workaround - and with the Ovation of the Seas itineraries now live, it seems that the visits are set in stone. However the overturning of the permit may mean that Auckland is a tender port on those itineraries, and it will undoubtedly have effects on future cruise lines' planning. They often set itineraries years in advance, and if Ports of Auckland cannot guarantee the state of its facilities it may be left off a lot of schedules.
Public interest versus private profit, environmental concerns versus commercial viability: it's a war of perspectives, and we can see both sides. We would love to hear your thoughts on these matters of concern to cruise-lovers, especially if you cruise from Perth or Auckland!