Independent planning commissioners have switched on a green light for controversial mooring dolphins to be built off the end of Queens Wharf in Auckland to facilitate the handling of larger cruise ships.
At the moment the light is actually a pale shade of green, with legal challenges planned in the Environment Court from groups long-opposed to the whole idea.
The whole scenario stems from agitation by some sections of the cruise industry – who seem not to like the idea that (at present anyway) a single cruise ship has to anchor in the harbour and ferry its passengers using the ship’s tenders … of which more later.
This is far from being an uncommon practice and occurs in many cruise ports around the world. Look no further than our own Akaroa and the Bay of Islands.
As a regular cruiser, I have never heard fellow passengers complain about the need for “tendering”. So the question has to be asked – “What is it that so upsets some cruise operators about having to tender in Auckland?”
Clearly there will always be a small number of passengers who, because of physical disabilities, cannot step in to the tender from their ship – but they will be aware and accepting of that before they make their bookings. Then there are also those who elect, for their own reasons, not to go ashore anyway – and that applies whether the ship is anchored or berthed.
I am certainly not aware of any demands by the cruise companies for cruise terminals to be provided in Paihia or Akaroa. And Wellington port offers absolutely nothing to cruise ship passengers apart from a cargo wharf with a pot-holed surface. For those disembarking there, baggage claim (in my experience) was a bus ride away at the Westpac Stadium, where the suitcases were dumped unceremoniously in the open on a parking area.
Why then are the facilities –or perceived lack of them - in Auckland an apparent bone of contention in some quarters?
So to the claim and counterclaim on just how much passengers might (or might not) spend in any port: it’s hardly going to be governed by the way they come ashore – ie by tender or with the vessel berthed at a wharf.
Even in some high-profile global cruise ports, ships anchor in the harbour when shoreside cruise terminals can only cater for one large vessel a time – examples being Monte Carlo in Monaco and Kotor in Montenegro. Or indeed in Sydney if the sole passenger berth at Circular Quay is already occupied.
Tendering is also the go (among many other places) in ports where there is no berthage, examples are Georgetown in the Cayman Islands, Cabo San Lucas in Mexico, ports of call around Hawaii including Kona and Lahaina, Falmouth in the UK, and St Peter Port in the Channel Islands – simply because there aren’t any wharves.
It seems the lobbying for the additional mooring facilities at Queens Wharf comes from just one cruise company, supported by the industry’s trade organisation, some cheerleading by Panuku Auckland, and the city’s Mayor, Phil Goff.
The fact this one ship keeps returning to Auckland several times each cruise season seems to indicate that its operator is not really unhappy with the situation. This ship is currently scheduled to make regular visits to Auckland – and anchor in the harbour – through at least to May 2020.
The present berthage at Queens Wharf has a vessel size limit of just under 300m – just fine for regular port callers from cruise companies such as Cunard, Princess, Carnival, NCL, Oceania, P & O and others.
For vessels longer than this, Princes Wharf is regularly used by ships such as Majestic Princess (330m) and Celebrity Solstice (314m). The one ship that anchors in the harbour is 348m in length.
And here’s a further perspective – the official Ports of Auckland list of incoming cruise ships shows that in the period 23 May 2019 to 8 May 2020 a total of 136 cruise ship visits are in prospect. Of those just six separate visits by one ship, Ovation of the Seas, will use the anchorage and tender its passengers ashore.
There is no evidence at present to suggest that Auckland will see the appearance of what are deemed “mega cruise ships” – which are in the region of 360m to 370m in length – and potentially carrying 5000 or 6000 passengers. In reality they are largely used to ship passengers around the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and Asia.
Several new vessels of this ilk are currently being built in European shipyards – generally to meet demand in specific markets.
Then there’s the size of the mooring dolphins mooted for Auckland. Overkill, surely. I’ve seen a few of these in my travels – generally they are tiny by comparison, and certainly don’t have elaborate walkways – workers reach them as required from tugs or other harbour service craft.
Is the at present unquantified final cost of this scheme really going to benefit the passengers? Or the city? Somehow I doubt it.
And I haven’t even touched on the environmental considerations!
Peter Hamling is a journalist and publisher of Commercial Property New Zealand. He is a former president and now life member of Auckland Coastguard and was a founding trustee of the Auckland Marine Rescue Centre.