Cruise company slams HK over mid-harbour berth

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 October, 2008, 12:00am

An international cruise company, frustrated that its ship had to berth in mid-harbour yesterday, had earlier said Hong Kong's lack of a decent cruise terminal left tourists with a 'shameful' experience.

The Diamond Princess, operated by the US cruise company Princess Cruises, was asked to moor and unload about 3,000 passengers yesterday in Junk Bay after initially berthing at Kellet Anchorage, Western District.

Passengers then had to board four smaller boats for a 15-minute trip to Central.

Hong Kong is one of the cruise ship's stops on its 16-day Asia tour, which started in Beijing last Monday.

On Monday night, the company's general sales agent, Princess Holidays, issued a press statement urging the government to build a new cruise terminal at Kai Tak as soon as possible. It said the 'mid-stream' berthing arrangement was equivalent to 'dropping a diamond into the water'. Asking more than 3,000 cruise staff and passengers - some of them elderly and some in wheelchairs - to board ferries caused a 'scene', it said.

This was the cruise ship's fourth visit to Hong Kong. It had previously berthed at the cargo terminal in Kwai Chung, but the terminal was fully occupied yesterday. The company's statement said it was shameful to ask cruise passengers to disembark in a strange environment surrounded by cargo.

The ship, with a displacement of more than 109,000 tonnes, cannot berth at Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, which is designed for ships of about 50,000 tonnes. So the berth in Junk Bay, described as more spacious, was arranged for it.

Princess Holidays' statement attracted wide news coverage. A spokeswoman for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said the Tourism Commission had discussed the berthing arrangement with the company, and a consensus had been reached before the ship's arrival.

She said the Tourism Board had also organised some free welcoming activities, including open-top bus tours to The Peak and Stanley.

An executive director of Princess Holidays, Nancy Chung Yiu Choi-yuk, said the company's comments merely stated the facts. She said she lamented the slow progress in building the new cruise terminal.

She also said the company had been told no berths would be available for the ship, which is scheduled to anchor five times in Hong Kong in the next seven months.

But another executive director of Princess Holidays, Linda Yuen Lai-fung, said yesterday that the government had done a good job of welcoming the cruise passengers. 'The passengers were happy with the arrangements,' she said. 'The whole unloading process was smooth.'

Meanwhile, passengers said they were not told why the ship could not tie up at a terminal.

Lyn Stares, who was travelling with her husband Martin from Essex, Britain, said of the boat trip to Central: 'The ship is possibly too huge for Hong Kong. The city probably has to get a bigger terminal.'

Joseph Tung Yao-chung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council, said the same arrangements were seen in Singapore and Australia.

'It should not be a problem if clear instructions are in place for the operation,' he said.

Water relay

The number of passengers ferried from the Diamond Princess to Central yesterday was: 3,000