Headline — 07 June 2013 — by Adele Ramos
Cabinet rejects Crawl Caye proposal

“Our ships will be going somewhere else, unless we can figure out a way to make the experience better.” – Colin Murphy, Norwegian’s Vice President, Destination & Strategic Development

Minister Hulse says, “…before you chase away a potential investor who intends to put down the upper part of 100 million dollars and just say ‘shush’ …you work with him within the parameters that may be possible.”

Minister of Labour, Local Government, Rural Development and National Emergency Management and Immigration and Nationality Godwin Hulse confirmed to us on Tuesday, following a meeting of Cabinet, that Government had decided to reject a proposal from Norwegian Cruise Lines for a $100 million cruise port development at Crawl Caye, because the scale of the project is too large for the location, which is part of a UN World Heritage Site.

Whereas the Crawl Caye proposal, Hulse said, is “off the table,” Government would still continue talks with the cruise line, to see if another location in Belize can work.

In explaining Cabinet’s decision to take Crawl Caye “off the table,” as the minister puts it, he told us that, “The environmental people, the technical people have concluded that that particular development would unduly disturb the ecology and the environment there, and therefore they do not recommend that location. So the promoters understand that: Crawl Caye is off the table.”

Hulse leads the subcommittee of Cabinet which met on Monday this week with officials from the Departments of Fisheries, Forestry and Environment.

“We all knew, of course, it’s in a World Heritage Site… but the magnitude of this development is a little beyond what is acceptable and so consequently they have determined that that location is off,” the minister added.

Hulse indicated that the decision was not due to pressure from opponents to the project – among them Belize’s premier tourism association, the Belize Tourism Industry Association, which largely represents interests in the overnight tourism sector. He told us that there have been “a lot of letters to me denouncing any kind of project in the south.”

Dr. Melanie McField, Director of Healthy Reefs Initiative in Belize, said, in a letter to Amandala last week that, “Crawl Caye is a fragile mangrove island surrounded by fringing coral reefs. These inshore coral reefs have recently been shown to harbor more robust and resilient corals than the outer barrier reef, and could help our reef system adapt to the changing global climate if they remain free from localized stress and injury.”

McField agrees with GOB’s technical team that construction of the cruise terminal would involve massive mangrove clearing and marine dredging, which would severely damage or destroy the fringing reef, seagrass beds, and mangrove forest, which, she notes, are all critical marine ecosystems supporting fisheries, tourism and biodiversity.

“In addition to the unavoidable direct impacts of construction are the chronic impacts from having thousands of people daily visiting this and nearby fragile areas. Finally, there is the additional risk of having a ship grounding, possibly including an oil spill, as these massive ships would be traversing the entire southern lagoon and out by Sapodilla Cayes. Given our lack of a functional oil spill response plan, it would be irresponsible to allow this additional risk into the heart of our marine ecosystem,” McField further posited.

With the Crawl Caye project having been turned down, Government is prepared to sit and work with Norwegian to come up with what Hulse described as “a win-win for both parties.”

“Government’s position has to be a balanced one, and it is that before you chase away a potential investor who intends to put down the upper part of 100 million dollars and just say ‘shush,’ that you work with him within the parameters that may be possible, and Norwegian Cruise Line is an established entity, it’s well financed – it’s not fly-by-night; and, therefore, when Government looks at our country and the dire need to create development and jobs, there are some sectors that jump out at you, and one of the main ones being tourism,” said Hulse.

Hulse added that the inflow of business and foreign exchange would be good for the south.

Norwegian, which reports having been in Belize since 1998, currently brings 100,000 passengers to Belize. The Crawl Caye proposal forecasted a quadrupling of that figure to 400,000 a year while providing 1,000 direct and indirect jobs.

As for a proposal to see if Hatchet Caye can work as an alternative, Hulse told us that no proposal has been presented for that specific location.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow told the media that, “…we have not said a blanket no to any potential development for cruise tourism in the south at all; but certainly—in terms of all the constraints, in terms of all the considerations articulated to us by the technical people—it cannot, will not work on Crawl Caye.”

He said that Riversdale had once been suggested; however, he does not know whether Norwegian is interested in Riversdale.

Prime Minister Barrow said he has stressed to Norwegian that “…if the project were ever to see the light of day, their site would be limited to hosting calls only from ships of [Norwegian]—no other line would be able to go there.”

Colin Murphy, Norwegian’s Vice President, Destination & Strategic Development, who was in Belize this week, told Amandala that the proposal was really a Norwegian solution for Norwegian passengers, many of whom don’t go on inland tours and who, consequently, report a low customer satisfaction.

“Our ships will be going somewhere else, unless we can figure out a way to make the experience better…” he added.

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