“We expect Harvest Caye to be operational by the fall of 2015,” says Colin Murphy, Vice President of Norwegian Cruise Line with responsibility for Destination Development. The National Environmental Appraisal Committee has approved a revised Environmental Impact Assessment submitted by Norwegian Cruise Line for the development of Harvest Caye. The cruise line is now preparing an Environmental Compliance Plan and will then apply for relevant permits to commence its US$50 million development project.
Colin Murphy says Norwegian made adjustments to its EIA based on the concerns raised at public consultations on the project. He says one of the concerns involved the source of potable water for Harvest Caye. Murphy says we made adjustment and included a state of the art reverse osmosis system on the island that is similar to what we have on the ships. The treatment system will be able to use sea water and produce quality drinking water. There were also concerns about an incinerator that was proposed for an inland site. Murphy says, “We addressed that concern and changed the plan; therefore, the incinerator will be built on the destination itself and as proposed will release very little emissions into the air.” Murphy says there were also concerns about the dredging of the area. He says NCL upholds the highest environmental standards in the world and guarantees there will be no environmental damage caused by its operations. He noted as well that many of those expressing “concerns” about the dredging have themselves dredged for their private resort development. Murphy says, “Why would we harm the environment when our very project is based on the attraction of the ecosystem?”
Norwegian Cruise Line invited members of the press to board the Norwegian Jewel to get a behind the scenes look at its operations, in particular its emphasis on maintaining the highest environmental standards. The press team was introduced to Zeljko Perovic who is the head of environmental operations. Perovic explained that over 80 percent of the waste material on board the ship is recycled. The waste is divided into several categories: hazardous, regulated, organic, inorganic; then further labeled as food waste, plastic, glass, metal, etc. The only waste disposed is food waste as encouraged by international environmental codes. The food waste is grinded so that the largest parcel size is one inch wide. It is then disposed in international waters at high speed. Perovic says it is not even noticeable and enters the water as a source of food for marine life.
Environmental compliance is only one of five requirements to conduct business in Belize. The project must also be socially and economically acceptable and legally doable; must create an increase in revenue for the Government of Belize; bring foreign exchange and must provide meaningful employment that pays well for Belizeans.
The Jewel made a visit to Belize City on Wednesday, April 9th, with 2,500 passengers on board, around 80 percent visited the mainland. According to the Belize Tourism Board’s Director of Cruise Tourism, Valdemar Andrade, the average cruise tourist spends US$75 on the mainland. Their onshore expenditures, based on a survey by the Business Research and Economic Advisors (BREA), include shore excursions, watches and jewelry, local crafts and clothing. Murphy says, “Every passenger NCL brings to Belize it is like they are on a familiarization tour and it is one less person that the tour and hotel operators have to attract by spending on advertisement.” In 2012, NCL brought 180,000 tourists to the Western Caribbean and 98,000 of those visited Belize. The Harvest Caye investment will make Belize the premiere Western Caribbean destination for NCL and the cruise line expects to increase the number of tourists visiting the Western Caribbean to 408,000 by 2016. This means millions of dollars in spending. There is a head tax of US$7 for every passenger on the ship that docks at the port. Government will receive US$3 from that head tax which is the established formula. The head tax can be increased by as much as US$1 after every five years. Most countries in the Caribbean receive less than US$7 and in this case NCL is using their own money to construct the port.
The Jewel which members of the press toured on Wednesday had 1,100 crew members representing 60 different countries. Neil Hall is one of those crew members from Belize. He is the Director of the Art Gallery and has been working in the industry for over six years. Hall says, “One of the amazing things about working on a cruise ship is that you wake up in a different country almost every single day.” He says, “It is not like you wake up, work, go to sleep and that’s all.” He says, “There is a great family relationship among the crew members and you learn about dozens of different cultures.” Hall says, “We do a lot of activities together and meet a lot of interesting people.” Hall will soon be joined by hundreds of Belizeans. According to Murphy, since NCL did its job recruiting in Southern Belize last year, over 130 people have already been offered jobs aboard the ships. Over a dozen are already working in crews, another 80 are in the final stages of the work visa process and some others are in earlier stages. Murphy says the cruise line was so impressed with the level of applicants that they have decided to have a permanent recruitment office in Belize as they plan to hire 8,000 more crew members worldwide over the next three years. In addition to those who are currently being offered jobs on board the ships, hundreds more will be hired for the Harvest Caye project. Hundreds will be hired for construction jobs during the Harvest Caye development. BREA estimates that once operational, the Harvest Caye destination will be responsible for 1,000 direct and indirect jobs. NCL must also provide training opportunities to Belizeans for all available jobs and there is a five year phase out plan that will see jobs that are initially held by foreigners assumed by Belizeans. That means the job of Kenneth Harstrom, Captain of the Norwegian Jewel, may one day belong to a Belizean. Harstrom, who gave a tour of the operating center of the ship to members of the press, said he started working on ships as a deck boy. His message to those aspiring for his job is “you must learn to follow instructions before you can give”. He encourages all Belizeans to take advantage of the job opportunities available with Norwegian and says he looks forward to welcome them to the family.
Hugh Darley is the Coordinator of the Harvest Caye Project. He was an Imagineer of Walt Disney and the Art Director that help designed the original Disneyland in California. Murphy says, “At Harvest Caye we are trying to do something a little bit different.” He continues, “All the ports built around the world are the Same. We don’t want a place where we just build a port, park a boat and build a jewelry store.” He says, “We want a place that is authentic- a place where visitors can experience the Belizean taste and true Belizean experience.” That is why Murphy says, “It is very important to us that our passengers leave Harvest Caye and go on the mainland.” The NCL Southern cruise will offer passengers the choice to visit as much as 30 communities and 60 attractions. There will be one ship per day and during the high season NCL will make calls four to five days per week. The Guardian