Geraldton port upgrades boost cruise revival hopes

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Tom ZaunmayrGeraldton Guardian
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Improvements at Geraldton Port have led to renewed interest in WA visits by cruise ship companies, though stakeholders are warning troubles up the coast in Exmouth threaten to undermine the industry’s revival.

Figures released by the State Government on Tuesday show cruise tourism contributed $276 million to the WA economy in 2017-18.

It was more than $100 million down from 2016-17 on the back of Carnival Australia’s withdrawal because of issues at Fremantle, Geraldton and Broome ports.

Fixes to those ports have resulted in Carnival agreeing to home-port the Sun Princess in Fremantle for a record 141 days in 2019-20.

Tourism Minister Paul Papalia said the return of Carnival to WA would be a boon for regional port towns.

“When Carnival stopped home-porting in Western Australia because of some regional port issues, we knew the number of cruise ship visits would decrease dramatically, which of course would also have an impact on the economy,” he said.

“As a result, we acted swiftly to rectify the problems and committed to improvements at Geraldton, Broome and Fremantle ports.

“Sun Princess will make 18 visits to regional ports over the 2019-20 season, with each visit estimated to inject up to $500,000 into the economy as the visitors explore the local area.”

Geraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn said the number of passengers disembarking in Geraldton had risen from as low as 20 per cent to 90 per cent since the State Government funded shore tensioning units at Geraldton Port.

Mr Van Styn said while Geraldton was going well now, combined lobbying from WA’s regional port towns to solve troubles plaguing Exmouth was needed.

“When you look at ships like Radiance of Seas, that is an additional 2000 people coming to shore,” he said. “Those six-star cruise ships where passengers are elderly, they’re often on Zimmer frames, they simply would not have stopped.

“If cruise ships can’t disembark passengers they can’t sell tours.”

Three ships carrying a combined 3000 passengers have sailed away from Exmouth this year without disembarking because of adverse weather.

There is no facility capable of berthing large ships in Exmouth. Instead, they drop anchor in the gulf and passengers are ferried to shore if the weather allows safe passage.

Cruise WA chairman Ross Dowling said leading cruise liners had told him they were concerned about the lack of momentum for addressing the issue in Exmouth.

“If they can’t get in there (Exmouth) that could have repercussions for the growth of cruising in WA,” he said.

Mr Dowling said opening up cruise ship access to the Abrolhos Islands would boost Geraldton’s attraction as a cruise destination.

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