84 cruise ships sets new high

Morgan (left) and Dave Saxton.
Morgan (left) and Dave Saxton.
Records will be broken when the largest number of cruise ships and passengers to visit Dunedin arrive this season, allaying fears over the impact of earthquake-damaged Lyttelton.

The arrival of Sea Princess on October 13 heralds a season where 84 vessels with more than 150,000 passengers, plus crew, arrive at Port Chalmers.

The 2011-12 totals will easily beat the previous season's number with an almost 25% increase from 68 cruise ships and 122,000 passengers, and will feature bigger ships and more Australian visitors, Tourism Dunedin chief executive Hamish Saxton said.

"Dunedin is the second most visited port in the country behind Auckland, and obviously it is the best port experience in the South Island."

Passengers were "being delivered right on Dunedin's doorstep", and an estimated 90% left each vessel to explore the city and surrounds, with Australians using trips as a reconnaissance effort for future travel.

A 2010 report commissioned by Cruise New Zealand forecast the industry to pump $346 million into the New Zealand economy over the 2011-12 season, with Dunedin set to benefit by $40 million.

Port Otago commercial manager Peter Brown welcomed the almost 25% gain in cruise-ship numbers, saying the increase would pose few berthing problems, while a passenger wharf walkway was the only infrastructure upgrade required.

The company advertised a full-time customer service position during the weekend, with 50% of their time to be spent co-ordinating cruise-ship schedules, overseeing berthing schedules and liaising with local tourism operators.

While there would be more days this coming season when two cruise ships tied up alongside wharves at the same time, Mr Brown said any congestion would be relieved on two fronts.

Port Otago was now not being used as a staging point for empty "trans-ship" container handling, and shipping giant Maersk was now using smaller ships carrying 2900 containers, as opposed to the longer 4100 vessels used in recent years.

"The smaller vessels and [subsequent] wharf space means this season will actually be more manageable than last season," Mr Brown said.

Mr Saxton said in addition to the burgeoning cruise industry, it was pleasing to see cruise ships remaining committed to Christchurch and the wider Canterbury region following the February 22 earthquake.

Between 70 and 80 vessels have been diverted from Lyttelton to the small Banks Peninsula settlement of Akaroa, to allow for repair and rebuilding.

The most frequent caller to Port Otago will be Sea Princess with 10 visits.

The season will also featuring the inaugural visit of the 90,000-tonne Queen Elizabeth on February 23.

Two large vessels, Volendam and Sea Princess, will also visit on Christmas Day, with the 3840-passenger megaliner Voyager of the Seas due on November 17.

- hamish.mcneilly@odt.co.nz


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