11 Feb 2015

Cruise ship visits in doubt

5:51 am on 11 February 2015

Lyttelton Port's refusal to accommodate larger cruise ships could see the South Island dropped as a cruise ship destination with the loss of millions of tourist dollars.

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One of the large cruise ships in Auckland which cannot berth in Lyttelton Photo: AFP

Earthquake damage to wharves at Lyttelton means the bigger ships have nowhere to berth as they make their way from Dunedin to Wellington and have to spend an extra day at sea.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines carries about 40 percent of all the cruise ship passengers who visit New Zealand.

Its New Zealand representative Tony Petrie said since Lyttelton was taken out of action, the cruise line's super-sized 3500 passenger capacity ships have cut sailings to the South Island from six three years ago, to just one for the coming season.

He said without a stop at Lyttelton, cruises to the South Island are hard to sell.

"When they leave Australia they're going to be sailing for three sea days before people can get off the ship in Dunedin and they want to be in New Zealand then. But of course without Lyttelton they've then got another sea day before they get to Wellington. So it's pretty difficult for them to sell that."

Port of Lyttelton

Port of Lyttelton Photo: supplied

Mr Petrie also said if the South Island was cut from cruise ship itineraries altogether it would make trips to New Zealand harder to sell in general.

He urged Lyttelton Port Company to think about the bigger picture.

"The port is looking very narrowly at its own interests and not the wider interests of the community there. The Canterbury region is missing out in a big way because the ships aren't coming in."

Upgrade too costly

Lyttelton Port Company CEO Peter Davie said it would cost $40 million to build a cruise ship berth and it cannot be justified, particularly if the cost is to be borne by the company alone.

Because they don't visit as often cruise ships provide only a fraction of the returns container ships do.

Mr Davie said: "If we spend money that doesn't give a return on a facility such as this, our return to our shareholders becomes lower so that has a direct impact."

Case put in favour

Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism has just presented the Christchurch City Council, which owns 100 percent of the port, with a business case for why the ships need to return.

Chief executive Tim Hunter said bringing the larger vessels in could inject an extra $113 million into the region over the next decade, but not doing so could see the industry wither and die.

"Within ten years, 30 to 40 percent of our ships will be in that large category. So I'm not saying we won't continue getting the 2000 capacity ships but it'll be the lessor end of the market and our cruises over time will simply diminish."

Concern over loss of earnings

Hassle Free Tours runs excursions for the smaller cruise ships now coming in to Akaroa Harbour.

Its owner Mark Gilbert said 40 percent of his business comes from the ships and the council needed to ensure a berth for the larger ships was built at Lyttelton.

"If we can't get these ships into Lyttelton then the economic impact on the region's going to be massive in terms of lost earnings from these passengers. So I think the council definitely needs to step in."

Christchurch City Councillor Raf Manji

Raf Manji Photo: supplied

Christchurch City Council Finance Committee Chair Raf Manji said the council was looking seriously at whether it should direct the port to construct the new wharf.

"I mean as a 100 percent shareholder we can obviously direct them to make that type of investment. Or the council can do it in a different way. We can work with private investors as well. So it's not necessarily something the port will have to do themselves. So commercially it may not stack up for the port but commercially for the city it may well stack up."

Mr Manji said if a proposal to sell a minority stake in the port goes ahead it won't make it harder to build a berth for the cruise ships.

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