By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A senior Carnival Corporation executive yesterday voiced optimism that construction on its Grand Bahama “crown jewel” can still start this year despite the pressures imposed by COVID-19.
Giora Israel, the cruise group’s senior vice-president for port and destination development, told Tribune Business that while its cruise port plans may be “delayed slightly” by the pandemic “that’s not a subject of discussion at the moment” as Carnival worked to complete the nearly two-year permitting process.
He added that the cruise line was “standing behind” the initial $100m investment pledged for its Grand Port, and said the figure may ultimately increase as Carnival “adds on what is required” to ensure the venture’s success.
Indicating that Carnival remains committed to the project despite the devastating financial blow dealt by COVID-19, Mr Israel said some 80 percent of land-based construction work will go to Bahamian contractors or sub-contractors although the marine works may go to overseas counterparts.
With environmental and planning related permits still outstanding, even though the process of obtaining them began in March 2019, he told this newspaper: “We hope the permits will be issued soon. We need those permits to start operations. We need quite a few months because we need to issue work notices.
“We started the permitting process in March 2019 and are still not quite there. Some of it had to do with us finishing our work, and we’ve completed everything requested of us by the Government.”
With the permits for the Sharp Rock-based project now in the hands of relevant government agencies, Mr Israel said the port would take 24 months to complete once construction starts. “COVID-19 may put some pressure on how much money we invest and when we start,” he added.
“I’m quite confident we can start operations this year and the permits will be issued shortly. Thereafter we will be able to start construction of the port........ This will be the crown jewel if we get it done in a timely manner. It will be a great port. It will be the first main island port development in The Bahamas; the first time a major port has been developed in a major island. It’s not a private island; it’s a destination port.”
Mr Israel said this would ensure more economic benefits flow to Bahamian entrepreneurs and the local community. He added that 1,000 construction jobs will be created over the 24-month build out, while 1,200 full-time posts will be developed between Carnival, local concession holders and spin-off opportunities.
The Grand Port will be able to accommodate two 6,000-passenger cruise vessels at the same time, with Carnival executives yesterday saying that The Bahamas will be the first Caribbean country to receive cruise vessels when the industry resumes sailing again.
Pointing to significant pent-up demand, and Carnival’s enduring strength despite heavy pandemic-related losses, Mr Israel said the company enjoyed its best and second best reservations days, respectively, when it announced the now-premature sailing resumption for its Mardi Gras and Celebration vessels last year.