Cruise ships in HK set to get a whole lot bigger even before Kai Tak's ready

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 April, 2009, 12:00am

A leading Europe-based cruise operator plans to base bigger, more modern liners in the city and may do so as soon as 2011 - though they will have to dock at container terminals until the first berth at the new Kai Tak cruise terminal is ready in 2013.

Italy's Costa Crociere cruise line plans to base ships weighing between 90,000 gross tonnes and 115,000 gross tonnes in the city.

Until now, the biggest cruise liner to have been based in the region is Royal Caribbean's 79,491 tonne Rhapsody of the Seas, though it was replaced by a slightly smaller ship that can more easily dock at existing terminals in the region, including Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui.

The European line's 28,400 tonne, 800-passenger Costa Allegra has operated from Hong Kong since 2006. Yesterday, the line's 53,000 tonne Costa Classica arrived to begin service. A second 53,000 tonne liner, the Costa Romantica, will replace the smaller Allegra in May next year.

Although these ships can dock at Ocean Terminal, bigger liners such as the 105,000 tonne Costa Magica, have to berth at the container port in Kwai Chung or anchor in the middle of Victoria Harbour.

The limited berths at Ocean Terminal also mean that not all ships can dock there when they want to. The arrival of the Costa Classica meant the Costa Allegra would have to berth at Kwai Chung today, Massimo Brancaleoni, Costa's vice-president of Asia-Pacific operations, said.

He hopes Costa's bigger liners will be based in Hong Kong 'very soon'.

'But for sure, it will not be in 2010,' he added.

'If we find the same kind of growth rate that we had in the past years, maybe we can consider starting in 2011. But this decision will only be taken in the coming six to eight months because I need to see how active the bookings are for Romantica in 2010.'

Costa has cut prices by single-digit percentage points because of the economic downturn, but Mr Brancaleoni said the outlook for the cruise industry was 'pretty good'.

The government has decided to build a cruise terminal at the former Kai Tak airport after rejecting tenders from the private sector to build it. The first berth is expected to be ready by mid-2013, though terminal facilities may not be completed until 2015.

Singapore expects to complete its International Cruise Terminal next year. It will have two berths capable of accommodating ships nearly twice as big as the largest liners Costa is planning to send to Hong Kong - the 220,000 tonne Genesis-class vessels operated by Royal Caribbean.

Rising tide

Experts predict demand for cruises will rise

According to a study by industry analyst Tony Peisley, based in Britain, global passenger numbers this year will be 19.04 million, and by 2020 will reach: 29.7m