OPINION: Cruise liner business grows in West Cork

January 8th, 2018 12:00 PM

By Southern Star Team


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OUR home-spun epistemologist in Dinty’s is happy that between last May and September, eight cruise liners berthed in Bantry Bay. That number is set to grow as the West Cork destination becomes a hit with maritime travellers who delight in one-day excursions to the Beara Peninsula and Clonakilty. They’ve even ventured as far as Skibbereen and Union Hall where they basked in secluded enchantments!

His encounter last June with some of the portly adventurers from the Prinsendam (the luxury cruise liner that had sailed into Bantry Bay) was an enlightening experience.

As they ambled along Mardyke Street, he realised that cruise-liner travel splendidly broadens the behind, although he also acknowledged that West Cork beauty, culture, history and (it seems) the best of grub also attracted the ship’s passengers like bees to a honeypot. The Prinsendam carried 800 passengers, arrived in the early hours and stayed until the evening. 

The new liner business in Bantry Bay is a spin-off of the seafaring tourism trade that the Port of Cork has been promoting in recent years. For instance, 75 large cruise liners are expected to berth in Cobh next summer.  Also confirmed is the Disney-themed ‘Magic Ship,’ which will make two visits to the town in 2018.

Impressed by the Bantry Bay Port Company’s investment of €9.5m in Bantry’s inner harbour, Holland American Lines, whose smaller ‘boutique’ liners can be accommodated in Bantry Harbour and Glengarriff, have committed themselves to West Cork. In the meantime, the Port of Cork plans to spend €15m on a second cruise liner terminal in Cobh.


Local benefits

The cruise liner business is worth €30m to the Cork region. According to info from the Port of Cork, passengers spend €73 per person onshore, with the same amount in indirect spending on coaches and tours. Over the season, as many as 100,000 passengers and 60,000 crew disembark in Cobh.

About half the number of passengers that arrive in Cobh book short excursions to Blarney, Kinsale, the Jameson Experience in Midleton, the Rock of Cashel and Youghal.  It’s a business that in itself is worth €3.6m seasonally.

Success, however, has not come without controversy. The Kerry TD, Michael Healy-Rae, has accused ‘the main Irish ports’ of obstructing proposals for cruise ships to visit Valentia Harbour and Ballinskelligs Bay, alleging they do not want South Kerry to prosper.

‘The main ports should keep their nose out of Kerry and not interfere with great efforts being made by people who want to bring more tourists and business to our county,’ said Healy-Rae.


Pollution controversy

But another, more serious controversy is set to erupt:  the pollution that these vessels create. Cruise liners pollute the air we breathe.

 Environmentalists calculate that each ship berthed at Cobh emits the equivalent of 688 heavy lorries permanently running their engines on the Deep Water Quay.  But vessels such as the monster 18-deck, 4,600 passenger MSC Splendida, can emit diesel fumes that in toxicity levels are equivalent to 2,000 lorries a day.

Ironically, air pollution emissions from ships are growing although land-based emissions are coming down. As matters stand, under EU law, ships must switch to their auxiliary engines and burn low-sulphur fuel within two hours of arriving in port until two hours before they leave.

But even while at dock, they are known to run dirty diesel engines in order to provide electrical power to passengers and crew. Emissions include NOx, CO and diesel PM, a microscopic soot that is seriously damaging to human health.

Environmentalists, however, argue that emissions can be reduced by 95% if ships and ports were to utilise a shore-side electricity supply; but this proposal has been rejected by cruise line companies on grounds of practicality.

The companies point to the fact that in the few ports that supply quayside electricity only a tiny proportion of ships have the facilities to use it. As well, studies show, they say, that were a ship to use shore power at every port on the itinerary during a seven-night cruise the emission reductions still would be miniscule.

Or, as our philosopher-humourist commented in regard to cruise liner pollution: ‘if it weren’t for our lungs there’d be no place to put it all!’


Traffic chaos

Cork, as if you didn’t know, is the 28th worst city in Europe for traffic congestion and the 68th in the world.

It’s up there – almost – with Mexico City and Bangkok, and the St Patrick’s Quay area (behind the Metropole Hotel) is the worst congestion point in the city.

So, we pricked up our ears when, at a recent Corpo meeting, Workers’ Party Councillor Ted Tynan described the situation around the private bus stops on St Patrick’s Quay as a ‘chaotic free-for-all.’

‘It’s dangerous, with people walking between buses, carrying backpacks and hand luggage, straight into the line of traffic. 

‘It’s been like that for several years and I’m amazed there hasn’t been a serious accident,’ he said.

He was spot on: There are no defined passenger waiting areas for the many private bus companies now using the location, which is beside the river; nor is there shelter from the elements, no one to give travel advice, no information on times of buses or delays, no local area maps, no signage to destinations, no facilities for mobility impaired people and, incredibly, no parking areas for cars dropping off or collecting passengers.

In other words, as a terminus where buses discharge or take on passengers, it is a mess: a confusing, chaotic and dangerous place. In short, a disgrace to the city! Yet, as Cllr Tynan pointed out, two years ago the National Transport Authority inexplicably found St Patrick’s Quay to be a ‘highly desirable’ bus stop area because of its close proximity to the city centre.

 City engineers have upgraded plans for the blackspot but the Workers Party man said private bus companies operating from the quay – some of whom are part of large international operations – could well afford to put in the necessary infrastructure: ‘If they want to run a private service, they should provide their own facilities. They’re coining it,’ he said.


Banana republic?

Ms Susan Gray, chairwoman of the Parc Road Safety Group, which is made up of people who have been affected by road traffic collisions, was flabbergasted by the reluctance of high ranking gardaí to discipline members for the mass falsification of 1.9 million breath tests.

She said the official response was sending out ‘a dangerous message to the gardaí on the ground, that they can do anything they like … This is two million falsified breath tests we are talking about and it has all been swept under the carpet.’  

Her comments were appropriate in the circumstances, but were ignored. 

What a country!

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