Calls for Galway Harbour Company’s port extension plans to be expediated grew yesterday after the cruise liner, Crystal Symphony, departed Galway Bay earlier than planned due to problems bringing passengers safely ashore resulting in an estimated €500,000 loss to the local economy.
Based in Miami, the 238 metre Crystal Symphony, with 922 passengers and 545 crew on board, came to Galway at around 8am yesterday as part of a seven day tour of Britain and Ireland, which includes stop-offs in Cork, Dublin, and Derry. The ship had been due to moor for the day near Mutton Island, however by 9am it was clear that the choppy waters would mean difficulties in ferrying the passengers ashore.
Following discussions with Galway Harbour representatives, the captain of Crystal Symphony made the decision, in the interest of passenger health and safety and with the threat of further bad weather looming, not to continue attempts and instead to sail on to Cork, eight hours ahead of schedule.
It was a bitter blow for Galway Harbour and for businesses in the city and county who were expecting a major boom in trade with the ship’s passengers due to explore the city streets or join tours to sights such as Aran Islands, Kylemore Abbey, Ashford Castle, and the Cliffs of Moher. “It is a bit of a disaster,” Galway Harbour CEO Eamonn Bradshaw told the Advertiser yesterday, adding that it not only sends out the wrong message to other cruise liners but proves the vital need in the city for a deep water port.
“So much organisation had gone into preparing for the ship’s arrival. It’s terribly disappointing for the passengers and for us and is a huge loss to the economy. The water was too choppy and the captain made his decision. He felt there was little point hanging around and the ship left for Cork where it can dock in Cobh. Galway needs that facility.
“The real answer is that we should have and need a deep water port in the city. Cruise liners want to come here, they tell us time and time again. Dublin welcomes 100 a year, Cobh between 60 and 70 so it’s big business as the passengers spend a lot when they come ashore. They need to disembark at a quay. Galway Bay can be rough and for the captain the number one priority at all times would be the safety of the passengers. We discussed it with the captain at length but the decision was his,” said Mr Bradshaw, who added that Crystal Symphony was the fifth liner to arrive in Galway so far this year with two more expected before the year end. It is hoped that up to six cruise liners will arrive in Galway next year, however, there are concerns that this week’s difficulties could have a negative impact on making Galway an attractive destination for cruise liner tourism.
There are also concerns that Galway will continue to lose other business, such as shipments of wind farm components, until the extension of Galway port is made a reality. Plans for the project were submitted by the Galway Harbour Company to An Bord Pleanala in January. More information has been requested and this is due to be submitted by mid October. This will be followed by an oral hearing and it is hoped that a positive decision will be given by next year with construction starting some time in 2016.
In a statement, the Galway Chamber of Commerce said that shops, restaurants, and bars had drafted in extra staff in anticipation of the pick up in trade that the Crystal Symphony was expected to generate. Echoing the disappointment expressed by the Galway Harbour Company, public representatives, and the business community, the chamber reiterated its support for the development of Galway port.
President of Galway Chamber, Frank Greene, said: “Galway city and county missed out on the considerable business that these people would have done in the area, in terms of the city and tours to the county. Many people have worked tirelessly to attract cruise liners to our city and region and a situation like today’s affects that work in a very negative way.
“The proposed development of Galway port will create a marine facility capable of ensuring that Galway has a harbour infrastructure fit for the 21st century and beyond. With such a facility today’s incident involving the cruise liner Crystal Symphony would not have happened. Today’s disappointment is yet another reason to expedite the extension of Galway port and the upgrading of port facilities is a top priority in the development of our city and the wider region.”