By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Downtown Nassau and other cruise-dependent Bahamian businesses have benefited from an extra 17,000 passengers to-date being diverted to the city by hurricane devastation in Florida and the Caribbean, it was revealed yesterday.
Michael Maura, Nassau Cruise Port’s chief executive, told Tribune Business that Hurricane Fiona had forced Carnival Cruise Lines to divert three ships to the Bahamian capital between September 21 and today after damaging the dock at its private port in Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos.
And Hurricane Ian’s arrival in Florida as a Category Four storm, packing winds of 155 miles per hour, has forced two other cruise lines to each redirect a vessel to Nassau this week. Their arrival was said to have more than compensated for a cancelled Disney Cruise Line call on Wednesday, which was likely due to its Port Canaveral home port being closed due to Ian, thus disrupting its itinerary.
“We had four cruise ships in today,” Mr Maura told this newspaper. “Just as the storm was leaving Florida we had 15,000 passengers roaming the streets of Nassau. We did have, and will have, some additional business as a result of Fiona hitting Grand Turk. Fiona damaged Carnival’s cruise dock in Grand Turk. While they make repairs they have had to divert ships to other ports, and Nassau is a beneficiary of that diversion.
“Fiona specifically would have diverted the Carnival Legend, Carnival Mardi Gras and Carnival Freedom to Nassau. That would have been from September 21 through tomorrow [today]. That would be 11,000 combined extra passengers.”
Assessing that damage, and then assembling and mobilising a contractor to carry out highly-specialist marine construction repairs, will likely take Carnival some weeks. As a result, Mr Maura said he expected Nassau and other ports will continue to benefit from vessel diversions.
As for Ian, the Nassau Cruise Port chief said the MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company) Seahorse on Monday, and Virgin Cruises’ Scarlett Lady yesterday, had both been re-routed to the Bahamian capital. “Those two ships brought 6,000 to us,” he said, revealing that four ships with a combined passenger count of 15,935 were in Nassau on Monday. A further 14,608 were on the vessels that called yesterday.
While it is uncertain whether all disembarked and spent money in the destination, Mr Maura said cruise ship berth bookings were “continuing to build” as Nassau Cruise Port comes to towards the end of its summer season - a traditionally quieter period when compared to the winter peak.
“Our bookings, if we look next week, our week runs from Friday to Thursday, so from tomorrow [today] to October 8 we will have 17 ships,” he told Tribune Business. “When we get to the end of October, that number climbs to 30 as the winter season arrives. We’ll see a tremendous return of calls as those ships deployed in Alaska and Europe return to the Caribbean. In a month we’ll be hitting the winter season. It’s very, very, very strong.”
Reaffirming that, based on 2023 forward cruise ship bookings, Nassau will attract more than four million cruise passengers next year - a higher number than the previous record year of 2019 - Mr Maura said the port is on track “to deliver more passengers than Nassau has ever seen”. He added: “You’ll begin to sense that, see it and feel it, that money being spent in downtown from November of this year.”