Lack of berths forces cruise to alter plans

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2007, 12:00am

The biggest passenger ship to cruise Asia has been forced to alter its itinerary because of a lack of berths in Hong Kong.

Royal Caribbean International's Rhapsody of the Seas, which made its Asian debut in Singapore on Sunday, received confirmation only a few weeks ago that neither Ocean Terminal nor the Kwai Chung container terminal would be able to accommodate it on March 22.

This has disrupted two scheduled cruises - a five-night cruise to Vietnam from March 17-22 and a five-night cruise to Okinawa, Japan, from March 22-27.

The Vietnam cruise will now be six nights, returning on March 23, when the ship departs for Okinawa on a reduced four-night itinerary.

Rama Rebbapragada, Asia-Pacific managing director of Royal Caribbean Cruises, said: 'We tried everything, but Ocean Terminal was full, and so was Kwai Chung. We were hoping arrangements could be made with another ship to free up a berth for us, but it was not possible.'

Star Cruises and Genoa-based Costa Crociere also have ships berthed in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is trying to address the issue of berth availability by initiating tenders for new cruise-terminal facilities at the site of the former Kai Tak airport. The successful bidder will be subject to a 50-year service agreement. Ships are expected to be able to berth there by 2012.

The planned terminal will be able to accommodate the biggest members of Royal Caribbean International's fleet, such as the 160,000-tonne Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas.

Hong Kong is keen to capitalise on and compete for the region's burgeoning cruise industry. Industry projections put the growth in the number of cruise passengers in the Asia-Pacific region at more than 40 per cent, from 1.07 million in 2005 to 1.5 million by 2010. This figure is expected to reach 2 million by 2015.

Rhapsody's Singapore cruises have all been sold out, Mr Rebbapragada said. The ship is calling Singapore home for two months before offering cruises from Hong Kong starting in February and then Shanghai.

The 10-year-old Rhapsody of the Seas weighs about 78,500 gross tonnes and can carry more than 2,400 passengers and almost 800 crew. The ship measures 279 metres long and 32 metres wide and has 11 decks.

It is the biggest ship to home-port in Asia but the smallest in Royal Caribbean International's fleet.