From Associated Press February 09, 2008 6:53 AM EST PORTLAND, Maine - Portland’s gleaming, $21 million terminal for cruise ships and ferries will open this spring. Another $7 million berth built to accommodate the world’s largest cruise ships will follow next year. There’s one problem. Because of a proposed change in federal rules, the city that’s banking on cruise ships and their passengers to pump millions of dollars into its economy is now wondering how many, if any, cruise ships will be calling this summer. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection proposal would require foreign-flagged cruise ships that depart from a U.S. port to spend 48 hours in a foreign port. It would also require them to spend more than 24 hours in a foreign port for every two days ia U.S. port More time in foreign ports would mean less in U.S. ports, and fewer tourists to spill out of the ships and spend money in places like Portland. “It could be potentially devastating. There’s no question about that,” said Jeff Monroe, the city’s transportation director. The proposed change is aimed at helping U.S.-flagged cruise ships based in Hawaii to compete against foreign cruise ships sailing from California by reducing the foreign ships’ time in the islands. It would close a loophole that allowed foreign-flagged ships to sail from U.S. ports to Hawaii by stopping briefly in Mexico on the way. Critics say the sweeping change will imperil hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues and port improvements on the mainland U.S. “They’ve sunk all of this money into cruise facilities and now the government is changing the rules,” said Aaron Ellis, communications director for the American Association of Port Authorities, one of many groups trying to change the rules. The Cruise Lines International Association, which represents 24 operators including Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line and Royal Caribbean International, warns that about 10 million U.S. vacationers stand to have their cruises altered or canceled unless the federal proposal is changed. In Portland, Monroe predicts that up to 80 percent of cruise ships would have to alter their itineraries. To meet the rules, they might drop Bar Harbor and Portland from their summer and fall cruises on the East Coast. Together, the two Maine ports accounted for 120 cruise ship stops last year. More than 150,000 tourists disembarked from the ships, spending money in shops, dining in restaurants and taking shore excurisions. Other U.S. ports would be affected. Key West, Fla., for example, could get skipped altogether by cruise ships traveling from Florida’s mainland to the Caribbean. And ships departing from Seattle could be forced to spend more time in British Columbia and less time in Alaska. Alaska is one of the world’s top cruise destinations, with tourists exploring the vast glaciers, towering mountain peaks and pristine waters. “It would be tough to sell an Alaskan cruise if they could only come for one day,” said Andrew Green, the Juneau port manager for Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska. Juneau alone would lose an estimated $68 million in direct spending from cruise ships in one summer. Customs and Border Protection acknowledges that it didn’t foresee all of the potential ramifications of the change, which was intended to protect two Norwegian Cruise Line ships that fly the U.S. flag in Hawaii. Rival foreign-flagged competitors based in Los Angeles and San Diego stop briefly in Ensenada, Mexico, before traveling to Hawaii. The agency’s solution to help NCL America was a new interpretation of the 122-year-old Passenger Vessel Services Act, a federal law that forbids foreign-flagged vessels from transporting passengers directly between U.S. ports. To meet the federal requirement, those ships must make a foreign port call as part of their cruise itinerary. As it stands, foreign-flagged cruise ships traveling from Los Angeles and San Diego to Hawaii make a brief stop in Ensenada - a “touch and go” - before continuing to Hawaii. The agency’s new interpretation defines a foreign port call as a 48-hour layover, putting a crimp in the itinerary of foreign-flagged ships. The change was proposed in November and the agency declined to extend the comment period. Because of the timing, there was meager public outcry, Monroe said. “This happened very quietly and right in the middle of the Christmas shopping season,” he said. Glen Vereb, chief of cargo security, carriers and immigration for Customs and Border Protection, said the agency is reviewing more than 1,000 comments, many opposed to the change. “The door’s wide open right now. I’m not quite sure where we’re going to end with this, but people have certainly made their opinions loud and clear,” he said. “We’re taking all of those opinions into account here in making our final rule.” John Shively, Holland America Line’s vice president for government and community relations in Alaska, is not sure his company has a fallback plan. “I do think people are hopeful that enough commotion was raised that the federal government will look at it again,” said Shively. For its part, Norwegian Cruise Lines hasn’t backed down from its position that something needs to be done to protect its U.S.-flagged operation in Hawaii NCL America’s U.S.-flagged ships are at a competitive disadvantage because they’re subject to U.S. taxes and labor laws. Other major cruise ship companies fly the flags of countries like the Bahamas, Panama and Bermuda. But NCL America supports a clarification of the proposed change to make clear that it applies only to the Hawaii market, said Alan Yamamoto, vice president of Hawaii operations for NCL America, in Honolulu. Maine Sen. Susan Collins, ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said she’s confident the agency will revise the rule. If not, she’ll ask for hearings. “It would kill the fledgling cruise ship business in Maine if this were to go into effect, and I’m determined to ensure that it doesn’t,” she said. DeleteDelete | ReplyReply | ForwardForward | RedirectRedirect | View Thread | Message SourceMessage Source | Save asSave as | PrintPrint Move | Copy Back to Inbox >
Archive for February, 2008
The biggest party in the world is Rio de Janeiro’s celebration of Carnaval. People from all over flock to the city to watch the magnificent parades of the competing samba schools. Getting a berth for a cruise ship is almost as difficult as getting a hotel room. Though the Seven Seas Mariner arrived late for the actual pre-Lenten celebration we were just in time for the Winner’s Parade. On Ash Wednesday, the winners of the coveted competition were announced; for the fifth time in six years Bejia Flor won first place. The next day, the top five schools performed to a sold out crowd in the world famous Sambadromo. Tickets for seats were going from $100 to stand in the bleachers to $1000 for a VIP box.
Lucky me – I was invited to see the parade from ring side seats – Sector 11, Frisa 5. For those thinking about attending next year, I highly recommend this location which was open and spacious with a great view. I was close enough to catch various bits of costume that were tossed into the crowds. (The lucky people in the front row were actually given headdresses and feathered capes!) The entire Sambadromo which holds 60,000 people was packed. There were plenty of well-identifiable personnel to help direct and lots of police to discourage petty theft. Though there were throngs of people it felt very relaxed and safe.
Well, as relaxed as you can be with the driving drums of the batteria causing even the most non- rhythmic gringo feet to start tapping. Everyone was singing. Everyone was dancing. The costumes of the samba schools were fantastic and the floats were mind-boggling; women danced on 40’ tall white horses, a pyramid of people created a crystal chandelier, a doll house was filled with transvestites – it kept getting bigger and better with each school. I regret that I had to leave at 1am; but some of my fellow guests watched the whole thing which ended at sunrise. Bravo!
If you have ever dreamed of going to Rio for Carnaval, make sure that you book your seats in advance. All the samba schools compete throughout the weekend through to Fat Tuesday; finalist perform one last show in the Winner’s Parade on Thursday. But don’t forget that located not too far from the cruise ship terminal in Port Maura is the new Cidade de Samba which is now open to the public where you can see floats being made and learn more about the history of samba and Rio’s winning samba schools.
More and more people are venturing off to visit The White Continent of Antarctica. Cruise ship departures from Ushuaia, Argentina are at an all time high giving rise to massive renovation and investment in the town’s infrastructure. But after the incident last November involving the expeditionary ship the Explorer; environmentalists are questioning how wise it is to have so many commercial ships in an area that is so fragile and potentially dangerous. In response, Lan Chile airlines offers an over flight. Departing from Punta Arenas, Chile, the 6 hour tour allows passengers onboard the AB300 to glimpse a little of Antarctica – weather permitting.
Every once in a while, this job has its benefits and most gratefully, I was allowed to accompany our group as an escort. Prior to departure a naturalist gave a very well delivered overview on Antarctica and its fauna. We were then taken to the airport where guests from the Seven Seas Mariner joined guests from the Holland-America ship the Prinsendam. As is the case with every flight, we did not know until arrival to the airport whether or not weather conditions would allow us to fly. However, luck was on our side and we took off. Once airborne everyone was given a menu of our in-flight service which started off with Pisco Sours. The mood onboard was jovial; everyone had a window seat and no one was seated over the wing except – the escorts – who did not complain.
Once crossing the Drake Passage we flew over Cape Horn and on toward the Weddell Sea. Down through the clouds huge tabular ice bergs started to appear as we neared the Weddell Peninsula. Weather was good so we the pilot took the plane down through the clouds. We passed over a Chilean research station and then banked across Danger Island. In the distance I could see the arc of the peninsula and couldn’t help thinking of Ernest Shackelton and his men who were marooned on Elephant Island just to the north. We passed low over Paulet Island, low enough to see huge rookeries of Adele penguins. On our return I asked the pilot just how low we were flying and he said at the lowest point we were about 1,000’ above the island – pretty impressive!
Just as we were getting ready to make a course change toward another island the notoriously unpredictable Antarctic weather moved in. Within minutes we were surrounded in clouds and wind. The pilot climbed to clear skies. Our total time viewing time was a little over an hour.
The flight was exhilarating; the pilot was excellent. The service onboard was ample and gracious. The plane was reconfigured for maximum viewing comfort. But was it worth it? I guess it depends on how much $1,700 represents to you. Though I am among those who are concerned about the impact of cruise ships in Antarctic waters, nothing beats being there – the immense, incomprehensible size of the ice; the color; and the stillness. Were I to choose I would have to say that I would rather save my money and apply the $1,700 toward an Antarctic cruise but if this were my only chance to see The Great White Continent – then yes definitely – if you can afford it – go!
Tidewater glaciers exist only in three places in the world; one of which is Chile. As a highlight of a cruise through the fjords ships detour to visit the few remaining tidewaters that are accessible; one of the most popular places is the Beagle Channel. During my talk, “Glaciers: Rivers of Ice,” I thought it would be funny to say something absurd like the Beagle Channel was named because of the abundance of wild beagles that were found there in the 1800’s. The more I thought about it, the funnier it seemed – to me. To make matters worse, I found a picture of beagles bounding through a field. Thinking this little bit of silliness would break the monotony of all these serious talks, I threw in the picture. The next day when I showed the image and said what I thought was a joke – no one laughed. I saw a few doubtful looks, but no snickers, no nothing. I apologized for my sense of humor and the fact I thought the idea of wild beagles roaming the mountains of Tierra del Fuego was funny, as obviously no one else did. The next day after we passed the glaciers, a guest came to me and said, “I thought you needed to know, a lady was looking for the beagles – and I am afraid she was serious.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Makes me have greater respect for the power of the microphone!