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Yarra Bay cruise ship terminal postponed

NSW Government has postponed their plan for a third cruise ship terminal in Botany Bay due to the Covid-19 crisis. Photo: Alec Smart

By ALEC SMART

The NSW Government has postponed their plan for a third cruise ship terminal in Botany Bay. The $550 million construction project, as yet awaiting a decision on the two proposed sites of Yarra Bay cove or Molineaux Point alongside, is now suspended for 18 months.

The government’s marina plan envisions cruise ships docking at one of the two adjacent sites on the northern side of Botany Bay, both requiring the construction of a massive wharf and surrounding infrastructure.

NSW Transport and Ports Minister Andrew Constance announced the deferment, conceding the Covid-19 crisis contributed to the delay. He confirmed the NSW Govt “has put on hold” the terminal plans with “all industry and community engagement suspended… It is not a priority for government or industry at this time..”

Earlier this year the Port Authority released a statement summarising their plan, but a business case is yet to be finalised, something long demanded by opponents: “Port Authority of NSW is progressing a Detailed Business Case to investigate cruise capacity, industry demand and assess potential sites for a third cruise terminal between Yarra Bay and Molineux Point in Botany Bay…

“The NSW Government is committed to investigating solutions to the constraints being experienced by the cruise industry in accessing terminal berths in Sydney…”

Opposition relief
The decision to postpone was welcomed by opponents, who hope the cruise ship industry – perhaps fatally torpedoed by the revelation its vessels incubate and spread the noxious coronavirus, which has contributed to hundreds of passenger deaths worldwide – will relinquish pressure on the NSW Govt to develop the site.

Maria Poulos from the Save Yarra Bay Coalition told City Hub, “No responsible Government would proceed with a plan to build a costly and unnecessary cruise terminal at a time of crisis and when the global cruise industry is on the brink of collapse.”

The share prices of the world’s three largest cruise liner companies, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian, have plunged more than 70 per cent since the coronavirus pandemic took hold at the start of 2020.

“This is the time for a serious rethink,” Ms Poulos continued. “This extravagant gift to the tax-dodging and unregulated cruise industry should just be scrapped.”

The much-publicised debacle of the Ruby Princess, which docked in central Sydney on March 19 and delivered hundreds of Covid-19 infected passengers, has focused on the culpability of the captain and the ship’s owner, Princess Lines. This has diverted attention from the NSW authorities responsible for fast-tracking the passengers ashore without checks.

21 of Australia’s 50 confirmed Covid-19 deaths are attributable to cruise ships, 18 of them the Ruby Princess. On 5 April NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller announced a criminal investigation into the Ruby Princess affair.

Over 700 Covid-19 infected passengers have now been linked to the Ruby Princess. Commissioner Fuller suggested on 13 April that the source of the outbreak “was probably a crew member working in probably the galley, someone who is serving food, someone who would get across a number of passengers for it to spread like it has.”

Despite the spotlight on Ruby Princess, on 23 March City Hub revealed the little-known fact that three other cruise ships that arrived around the same time as Ruby PrincessVoyager of the Seas (March 18), Celebrity Solstice (March 18) and Ovation of the Seas (March 20) – also disembarking Covid-19 infected passengers.

Confirmed by NSW Health officials, the Voyager of the Seas arrived with 34 passengers and five crew who were subsequently found to be Covid-19 infected; Celebrity Solstice with 12 infected passengers; and Ovation of the Seas with 84 infected passengers.

Like Ruby Princess, the passengers disembarking from the three other cruise ships were similarly fast-tracked ashore and went on to contaminate others.

The NSW Police announcement of a criminal investigation into Ruby Princess took place the same weekend that the three other cruise ships that brought Covid-19 infected passengers into Sydney were quietly escorted out of the harbour. Curiously, they didn’t attract the same media and police attention as the Ruby Princess.

Other concerns
Beyond Covid-19, other issues surrounding the NSW Govt’s cruise ship terminal scheme include the height of ‘mega’ ships expected to dock in Botany Bay, infringing the airspace of passenger jets taking off and landing at Sydney Airport.

This is of utmost concern during the initial stages of the construction project when ships are projected to moor at Hayes Dock, parallel to runway 19L-34R, the secondary landing strip at Sydney Airport whilst Yarra Bay or Molineux Point are being prepared. The width of the narrow water channel between the runway peninsula and Hayes Dock is around 700 metres, providing a very tight arena for cruise ships and accompanying tug boats to manoeuvre and dock.

The Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) expressed serious reservations about the close proximity of berthed mega cruise ships to the busy runway, including additional turbulence in strong winds that would make controlling planes difficult.

AIPA vice president Shane Loney told City Hub, “We remain concerned with any intrusions… This has the potential to adversely impact airport efficiency and aircraft safety…”

Save the Bay Coalition state on their webpage: “A mega cruise ship terminal will impact negatively on the operational efficiency of Port Botany, which is currently a dedicated freight handling port.

“Botany Bay is [also] home to hundreds of marine species and marine, coastal and estuarine habitats, including some that are threatened. The bay receives regular visits by dolphins, whales, turtles and fairy penguins. Molineux Point is home to a seal colony and rare Pygmy pipefish.”

Much of Yarra Bay is only a few metres deep, so substantial dredging will be needed to accommodate large vessels, stirring up contaminated sediment from decades of poor waste disposal from surrounding industry, including heavy metals and other agents fatal to marine life.

Add to that unknown health consequences from the low-quality marine fuel burned in ship exhaust emissions and you have what, at best, could be described as a toxic situation.

New breakwaters that will need to be constructed will inevitably affect tidal flows, risking severe coastal erosion during storms, impacting Yarra Bay and neighbouring Frenchmans Bay.

To understand the projected increase in cruise ships visiting Sydney, the NSW Govt’s own figures state: “In 2017, Sydney Harbour hosted 367 ship visit days by 50 different ships. By 2040 the number of passengers cruising through Sydney is expected to double.”

Calling for a complete cancellation of the NSW Govt’s proposed cruise ship terminal, Maria Poulos told City Hub: “Enough time and energy has been wasted on this misguided proposal. It should have been rejected on environmental and public safety grounds already. The cruise industry has demonstrated it cannot be entrusted with the health and safety of the community. There is no way they should be locating a passenger terminal for mega cruise liners next to a high hazard chemical and gas bulk storage facility on one side and a fragile ecosystem on the other side of the bay. The taxpayers of NSW and Australia deserve better.”

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