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Building Cruise Berthing Facilities in the Cayman Islands: an Unfinished Drama in Three Acts

El atraque de crucero en las Islas Caimán: un drama sin conclusión en tres actos
Laura Panadès-Estruch


Drama surrounds the decision to build a cruise berthing facility in the Cayman Islands. After two decades waiting in the wings, the berthing is the most extensive infrastructure plan and the most divisive project Cayman has ever considered. Cruise passengers must wait for their ship to anchor offshore and board a tender to carry them to the port. The Government intended to improve this situation by building a cruise berthing alongside a total redevelopment of its cargo port through a contractual public-private partnership. The project was awarded to a consortium led by Carnival and Royal Caribbean, but various decisions have been kicked back until after the May 2021 elections. However, has the ship now sailed? This article’s goal is to provide a way forward to overcome the current deadlock. The article is structured in three main sections: a general section on cruise ship tourism in Cayman to put this case study in context; the second section is a critical assessment of the cruise berthing’s timeline and milestones; and the third section assesses its impact on the host community. Desk-based research blending international and local bibliography provides a uniquely local perspective.

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A word of thanks goes to Prof P Craig, whose article ‘Brexit – A Drama in Six Acts’ inspired the title of this article. Many thanks to Hadleigh Roberts, who has patiently proofread this article. All comments and opinions are my own and do not represent the official position of the Cayman Islands Government.


1This article tells the story of how the Cayman Islands fell in and out of love with cruise berthing. Cayman’s relationship with cruise ship tourism and, in particular, with the berthing, is a scholarly relevant case study and a riveting story. In this Études Caribéennes special issue, this is the one to watch.

  • 1 See the monument located in the Cayman Islands at Heroes Square.

2The Cayman Islands comprise three small islands in the Caribbean Sea to the south of Cuba and the west of Jamaica. Cayman was sighted for the first time in 1503, when Christopher Columbus noticed its two smaller islands, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, and named them “Las Tortugas” – Spanish for “The Turtles”1. Spain would later claim sovereignty over them. Poor natural resources, arid land and no drinking water rendered the islands uninhabitable until 1666, when the first settlers arrived on the main island, Grand Cayman, attracted by the abundance of green turtle meat (Aiken, Godley et al., 2001). The turtle population still generates income through tourism and as a local source of food (Cayman Turtle Centre, 2020a). In 1670, the Treaty of Madrid transferred sovereignty on the islands to the UK and they became a British Overseas Territory under the jurisdiction of Jamaica (Craton, 2004). For most of its history, Cayman lived off seamen wages and remittances from those that immigrated to more prosperous countries, such as Jamaica or Nicaragua (Explore Cayman, 2020). Today, Cayman ranks as the fifth largest financial centre as per assets in the world (Fichtner, 2016). Cayman’s GDP of CI$ 4,571 million (€ 4,929 million) in 2018 and a public budget exceeding CI$1.5 billion in 2020-21 make this one of the wealthiest countries regionally (McTaggart, 2020). Cayman’s tax neutrality is attractive to foreign investors and global capitals: there are no personal income taxes or corporate taxes. It hosts a quickly growing population exceeding 68,000 inhabitants and more than 110,000 companies (Cayman Islands Economics and Statistics Office, 2019a, 2020; Cayman Islands General Registry, 2020). The main economic drivers are financial and insurance activities, a consolidated tourism sector and, more recently, a booming real estate market (Cayman Islands Economics and Statistics Office, 2018, 2019a).

3Cayman's financial success results from a combination of endogenous and exogenous factors. Endogenous factors go back to the 1960s. The first commercial bank, Barclays Bank, arrived in 1953 (Key to Cayman, 2020). The liberalisation of financial markets during the 1960s-1970s set the bases for Cayman to become a global financial offshore centre (Craton, 2004; Markoff, 2009). Besides, the UK's sovereignty over Cayman as a British Overseas Territory (Hendry and Dickson, 2018) confers the Caribbean country extra layers of safety in complying with international law. Cayman plays a controversial role in international finance. Some think there is overall compliance with most international regulatory standards (Montgomery, 2011: 57-66). Others think that the jurisdiction could do more (Zucman, 2015; Aragón Falomir, 2019). Conversely, exogenous reasons also played a role in Cayman’s financial success. US capital first went to Cuba for shelter against US taxation policies but, following the 1959 Revolution, quickly took flight to Cayman (Montgomery, 2001:53-57). Finally, being “an exogenous market to the US, [but] in US dollars” (Montgomery, 2001) and conveniently located in the same time zone as the Eastern US (except during Daylight Saving, which Cayman does not observe) are further calling factors that would trigger the success of Cayman as a top global offshore financial centre.

4The past ten years have been rocky, but Cayman is now ready to take on large projects. The 2007-09 Global Financial Crisis did heavy damage to financial services, tourism and construction (Clegg, Daniel, et al., 2017), and left British Overseas Territories “particularly exposed to economic shocks” (Foot, 2009). Cayman saw fiscal deficits of up to 7% and severe cash shortfalls (Ioannides and Tymowski, 2016:16). The UK spearheaded a local effort towards good governance within Cayman’s borders. The local legislator has tackled the perceptions of high corruption and mismanagement of public resources. It started with financial stability, with the implementation of a Framework for Fiscal Responsibility in 2011 which would be made binding in 2013 (UK Government, 2011; Cayman Islands Government, 2013a; Panadès-Estruch, 2019a). Public Procurement followed in 2018, setting a legal framework to regulate public purchases with the private sector (Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly, 2016, 2018; Cayman Islands Central Procurement Office, 2020). The Standards in Public Life Law was enacted in 2014, revised to narrow its scope in 2016 and finally entered into force in March 2020. This Law compels top civil servants, legislators and board members of public bodies, public companies and statutory authorities to disclose own interests and those of people close to them affecting the exercise of their duties (Cayman Islands Commission for Standards in Public Life, 2020). With economic figures having caught up with those preceding the Global Financial Crisis and a new local impetus for good governance, Cayman is ready to make large capital investments. These include upgrades of several high school campuses, a new integrated waste management system and the tandem infrastructure of the cargo port redevelopment and cruise berthing facilities.

5This article assesses this last change: the building of new cruise berthing facilities. The cruise berthing would anchor Cayman’s tourism sector in favour of cruise ship passengers. The decision is of such central importance that everybody has an opinion and a stake in it: whether nationals, permanent residents, work permit holders or others. Environmental arguments have fuelled resistance movements and obliged the Government to call a referendum, successfully challenged the Referendum Law in Court and lost on appeal. In 2020, the project is on pause and COVID-19 has kicked the can down the road to after the 2021 Legislative Election. This article conveys the main events and addresses its impact on the host community. The article is structured in three main sections: a general section on cruise ship tourism in Cayman puts this case study in context; the second section is a critical assessment of the cruise berthing’s timeline and milestones; and the third section assesses its impact on the host community. The conclusions propose a roadmap to break the deadlock. A blend of local and international bibliography sources should lead to unique local insight into the host community perceptions. The author is based locally and has spared no effort to learn from local sources.

1. Act I: cruise ship tourism and the Cayman Islands – the exposition

6Tourism has become one of Cayman’s main industries, with cruise ship tourism at its epicentre. Tourism took off with the opening of Cayman's first airport, Owen Roberts International, in the main island of Grand Cayman in 1954 (Cayman Compass, 2005). Tourist attractions, mainly hotels, opened progressively. 1974 became 'the year that gave recognition to tourist development in these islands' when, among other measures, the Tourism Law created the Department of Tourism within the Cayman Islands Government (Cayman Compass, 2005). Hurricane Ivan hit Cayman in 2004, leaving the three islands devastated: estimated damages reached USD 3.4billion, 95% of the buildings were damaged or destroyed and utilities' infrastructure was severely disrupted (Wells, 2018; Lonely Planet, 2018; Cayman Turtle Centre, 2020b). As a result, tourism halted and local curfews were imposed to avoid mass looting (Lonely Planet, 2018).

7Since then, Cayman has become ‘one of the hottest tourism markets in the wider Caribbean’ (Niland, 2019). Recent tourism figures show sustained growth over the past decade, leading to 638 ships and almost two million cruise ship visitors in 2018 (Cayman Islands Economics and Statistics Office, 2019b). In particular, cruise ship visitors are a great source of income for the country: they make up for 75% of the visitors and an estimated 25-30% of the country's GDP (SupPORT our Tourism, 2019: 10). Overall, the average visitor exhibits high income and high spending power, with almost three-quarters of cruise ship visitors reporting income figures above USD100,000. Official statistics report that 10% of the visitors arriving in Cayman via cruise ships report annual household incomes of USD200,000-USD300,000; 25% report incomes of USD150,000-200,000 and 38% report annual household incomes between USD100,000-150,000 (Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, 2019). Local business is booming as well. Even in such a small country, the local Cayman Islands Tourism Association, also CITA, representing the interests of the tourism sector, congregates more than 250 local businesses and entities, including hotels, condominiums and villas, local attractions, cruise and allied businesses, watersports providers, restaurants and transportation (Cayman Islands Tourism Association, 2020). At least pre-COVID-19, the local economy, with tourism at its core, was booming.

8The impact of cruise ship tourism extends beyond economic data, but it has kept within the limits of acceptable change for the host community. A United Nations World Tourism Organisation study has measured cruise ship tourism using the concept of ‘limits of acceptable change’ (World Tourism Organization and Asia-Pacific Tourism Exchange Center, 2016:64). It is widely recognised that cruise ship tourism always changes the host community. The key to success is to make sure that this change does not surpass the ‘limits of acceptable change’ due to the vast impact of cruise ship tourism on local culture, attractions, traffic and overcrowding. Within its borders, Cayman is fully committed to tourism. Its long-term vision is focused on ‘[p]rotecting our environment, celebrating our cultural heritage, while ensuring a vibrant tourism economy that benefits the people of the Cayman Islands’ (Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly, 2019). In so doing, 'mediated culture' is the scholarly stream that symbolises Cayman best. Burns identifies four overarching themes in describing the impact of tourism in the host community, being cultural politics, social identities, contested culture and mediated culture (Burns, 2006: 14-21). Cayman relies on mediated culture, where 'locals, academics, planners and managers seek solutions to some of these problems' (Higgins-Desbiolles, 2003 in Burns, 2006, 14). Three cultural influences compose Caymanian identity: the UK, as sovereign; the US, as the cultural hegemon; and the Caribbean, as its region. The Government, the legislator, local lobby groups, business associations and a few scholars, such as the author, discuss future actions and find common ground. This combination leads to a process of hybridisation, where ‘cultures learn and adapt from each other’ (Burns: 2006, 21). Uneven distribution of visitors also impacts the local community. Concretely, the cruise ship industry is known for its peaks and troughs (Mason, 2003): ‘visitor numbers are not spread evenly throughout the year [and] even during the peak period of visits, there is a variation in visitor numbers at a given site'. Weather determines seasonal peaks and troughs within the week, which determine 'the schedule of tour operators and carriers' (Shackley, 1998). Cayman is no exception. Its reliance on cruise ship tourism causes additional strain on the host community in its peak season: this is the mild winter weather, well into the dry season and when the risk of hurricanes is lowest.

9The impact of the construction of the berthing facilities is unknown. Will it push beyond the limits of acceptable change? The next sections focus on the cruise berthing facilities, critically assessing the project and its impact on the host community.

2. Act II: the cruise berthing – the complication

10Cayman plans to build cruise berthing facilities for four vessels in the historical location of Hog Sty Bay. This area is nestled between the capital city of George Town and the sea. It was originally a public swimming area but today is a strategic location between the two port terminals, where the tenders embark and disembark cruise ship passengers and the cargo port docks container ships. The cruise berthing project will entail designing, building, financing and operating for 25 years. Asset design and construction entails ‘two cruise piers or four berths; land reclamation adjoining the existing cruise and cargo area; the expansion of existing cargo facilities inclusive of quay walls, a RoRo jetty and dolphins; a cruise terminal and commercial buildings; and pavement for cargo quay, cruise terminal quay and the parking lot’ (Cayman Islands Ministry of District Administration, Tourism and Transport, 2017). The new infrastructure will bring significant changes to the island. However, the second act shows that 20 years mulling the cruise berthing have only polarised those in favour and against, leading to a deadlock.

Figure 1. Rendering of the design of the facilities

Figure 1. Rendering of the design of the facilities

Source: SupPORT our Tourism, 2019:35.

11The immediate benefit of the cruise berthing is that it will do away with the need for tendering, the current model for passenger disembarkation: cruise ships anchor offshore at one of four deep-water anchorages and smaller vessels transfer passengers to the port terminal and back to the ship. Replacing tendering is expected to reduce boarding times and enhance the visitors' experience. Tendering is perceived as a less efficient system that limits Cayman's potential within the cruise ship market. It imposes several burdens on Cayman too. It is difficult to manage so many passengers in the small arrivals area, a shared space with cargo loading. Long queues of people slow traffic and cause congestion, leading to overcrowding, which affects the perceptions of stay-over visitors, dampening Cayman’s efforts to maximise visitors' spending and local added value of visitors (Cayman Islands Government, 2018b).

12The cruise berthing should not be examined in isolation as a standalone infrastructure: it enables Cayman to welcome larger ships and to redevelop its cargo facilities in tandem. As they currently are, these shared spaces pose severe risks for Cayman and its visitors. Visitors transiting in the cargo area incur risk of accidents. Cargo management is forced to slow down and puts the port under pressure trying to cope with the increasing trade of goods for Cayman's growing population. The Government-sponsored campaign ‘SupPORT our Tourism’ has argued that 'the port is one of the most essential services on this island, and it needs to be upgraded and expanded to meet the needs of a discerning population' (SupPORT our Tourism, 2019). Cayman's Chamber of Commerce has complained about its limited space, arguing that traffic of visitors to/from the tender boats slows down cargo management, puts pressure on the employees and requires night-time work, which raises safety concerns for workers and tourists alike (Ragoonath, 2019). By grouping the cruise berthing facilities with the cargo redevelopment, the Cayman Islands Government wants to make sure that, whichever private partner is responsible for the cruise berthing facilities, it has to build and finance a safer, better cargo port as well.

13The cruise berthing drama has been in the works for two decades and yet the script is still being written. The National Tourism plan 2019-2023 acknowledges the vital role that the berthing is to play in Cayman’s future. The plan recognises that Cayman is ‘one of the top cruise destinations in the Caribbean and one of the last destinations without a pier’ (Cayman Islands Government, 2018b:18). Upgrading the cruise ship infrastructure is seen as an opportunity: the berthing is expected to ‘increase visitor spending and help the Cayman Islands remain competitive as a cruise ship destination’ (Cayman Islands Government, 2018b:40). It follows that cruise berthing infrastructures in alternative Caribbean destinations are a competitive threat (Cayman Islands Government, 2018b:17). The expectations placed on the berthing are further proof that Cayman is committed to consolidating cruise ship tourism as part of its grand strategy.

14Social opinion has polarised significantly in the past decade. The berthing started to make the headlines when cruise ship visitor numbers skyrocketed in 2000-2003, by 76%, jumping from more than a million to almost two million (Markoff, 2015). Since 2000, ‘[e]very government elected has had promises of a cruise port in their election manifesto or as part of their delivery plans’ (Cayman Islands Office of the Premier, 2019c:3).

15Then the tide began to turn. A warning came in a 2003 report commissioned by Cayman’s Ministry of Tourism and written by a UK-based consultancy. It highlighted the many risks of betting on cruise ship tourism, namely a deterrent impact on stay-over visitors and overcrowding in the capital city and the main touristic attractions (Markoff, 2015).

16Hurricane Ivan, in 2004, affected the whole country; and cruise ship tourism would be no exception, as figures of visitors dipped significantly. Since then, more and more legislators and key civil servants voiced support for the cruise berthing and some private sector enterprises offered development proposals (Markoff, 2015). Despite the fall in visitor figures caused by the Global Financial Crisis, the private sector’s interest continued undiminished. Royal Caribbean Cruises announced that no Oasis-class ships, their largest tier, would dock in places without cruise berthing facilities (Markoff, 2015), leaving Cayman off their maps. China Harbour Engineering Company and, later, Royal Caribbean and Carnival would signal their interest in delivering the cruise berthing facilities (Markoff, 2015). Following the May 2013 elections, the new Cabinet approved the decision to go ahead with the cruise berthing facilities later that year (SupPORT our Tourism, 2019:1). Work to gather the necessary supporting documentation, mainly assessment reports and an environmental impact assessment continued. Procurement started in 2015. In time, a pre-qualification procedure identified three potential suitors, who were invited to submit final tenders (Cayman Islands Government, 2018a). These were China Harbour Engineering Company, Bouygues Bâtiment International and Verdant Isle Port Partners (Cayman Islands Ministry of District Administration, Tourism and Transport, 2019). The deadline for pre-qualified bidders to submit their final bids was 31 May 2019 (Cayman Islands Office of the Premier, 2019a). Only one of the pre-qualified bidders submitted a bit and, therefore, won the project. This bidder was Verdant Isle Port Partners, a consortium of four enterprises: Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd and Carnival Corporation, together with Orion Marine Group and McAlpine Ltd (Verdant Isle, 2020).

17As work progressed, opposition grew. Demands for a referendum and associated calls for judicial review have slowed the project to a standstill. The opposition is coordinated under the name of CPR Cayman: the Cayman People’s Referendum campaign. This is a civil society body opposing the cruise berthing, later joined by the National Trust of the Cayman Islands. They contest the cruise berthing on social, economic and environmental grounds (CPR Cayman, 2020a). They believe that building the cruise berthing will lead to excessive increases in the cost of living, visitor numbers and traffic congestion; a damaging impact on the country’s finances and environmental concerns over coral destruction, dredging and silt (CPR Cayman, 2020a).

18The Referendum became a way forward. The Cayman Islands Constitution of 2009 allows for people-initiated referendums in Cayman on matters of ‘national importance’ (Cayman Islands Constitution, s.70). There is no doubt that the cruise berthing is such a matter although, in small countries, almost any issue could be treated as one of national importance. According to the Cayman Constitution, triggering the referendum requires a petition signed by ‘not less than 25 per cent of persons registered as electors’, which happened in September 2019 (Cayman Islands Office of the Premier, 2019b). The local Legislative Assembly, recently renamed Parliament, passed the Referendum (People-Initiated Referendum Regarding The Port) Law in 2019 because there was no general referendum law. The Referendum was scheduled for early December 2019 and postponed twice. The Grand Court of the Cayman Islands found the Referendum Law on the port to be unconstitutional and, among other issues, that the suggested referendum question needed redrafting (Matrix Law Chambers, 2020). However, an appeal stroke down that decision and declared the constitutionality of the Port Referendum Law. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Government announced that health crisis management and future economic recovery would be the main issues that the current Government would tackle; these priorities leave no room for the cruise berthing, which will be the responsibility of the incoming elected Cabinet resulting from the 2021’s Elections: Cayman’s Premier stated that ‘the cruise port referendum is not an issue that is in the Government’s agenda for the rest of the term; whatever happens with [the cruise berthing referendum], it will be another government that deals with that’ (CIG Television, 2020a:1:51:46-1:52:03; Cayman News Service, 2020b).

19The cruise berthing is either the key to unlocking Cayman’s future or a disaster waiting to happen. To understand this polarisation within the host community, the next section assesses in detail selected issues on the cruise berthing impact.

3. Act III: the host community’s denouement? – a critical impact assessment

  • 2 Personal attendance of the author, Family Life Centre, 14 Nov 2019, George Town, Cayman Islands.

20The cruise berthing facility and cargo port redevelopment is the largest planned infrastructure project in the history of the Cayman Islands and the most divisive. In a community outreach meeting in November 2019, the Cayman Islands Premier mentioned that ‘this is a controversial issue by nature [but] we will still live together afterwards’, regardless of the decision.2 This section covers the impact of the cruise berthing, focusing on the host community and selected project management issues. Cayman is no stranger to pressures associated with cruise ship tourism. The cruise berthing has unearthed a range of sociological forces affecting the local host community. These are summarised in a PESTLE analysis, an acronym covering political, economic, sociological, technological, legal and environmental impact.

Figure 2. PESTLE analysis on the cruise berthing impact on the host community

Figure 2. PESTLE analysis on the cruise berthing impact on the host community

21From the above, the three most prominent issues are project procurement, relationship management with cruise ship providers and environmental issues. Project procurement comes first, looking at prior experience, public-private partnerships as the procurement method of choice and adapting to future contingencies. Second, the management of relationships with cruise line providers takes stock of the tight links emerging between Cayman, and Carnival and Royal Caribbean. These are two major providers of Caribbean cruise ship holidays as well as partners delivering Cayman's cruise berthing. However, they are not the only cruise ship providers to serve Cayman. The question is how best to manage Cayman's relationships with other major market players. Third, the article evaluates the role of environmental issues.

3.1. Project procurement

22Economic, technological and legal issues converge in procuring the cruise berthing facilities and cargo port redevelopment. This subsection assesses the Government's approach to negotiations to build, finance and manage the facility. The aspects discussed below are the influence of previous port history, the role of public-private partnerships and opportunities to host future growth.

23Past experience has made the Cayman Islands Government aware of the need to put in place legal and policy frameworks that make sure that the project is well-managed and delivers optimum results. Relevant precedent to the cruise berthing is the flawed development of the Royal Watler port terminal. The Royal Watler was a project comprising land reclamation and building of a finger pier for tender boats to offload cruise passengers; the finger pier included the construction of buildings to host immigration and customs authorities, as well as commercial retail space (Cayman Islands Audit Office, 2006). The project took roughly four years to complete, from 2002 to 2006. In 2006, the Audit Office of the Cayman Islands audited the project before its conclusion. The Office noted concerns that the tender berths were 'congested and restrictive', the passengers' welcome area was 'inadequate', the interactions between passengers and port operations had safety flaws and that offshore cruise ship anchoring would cause coral reef damage (Cayman Islands Audit Office, 2006:5). Detailed analysis found flaws in overall project management, budget and public procurement, such as general lack of governance within the Port Authority, low value for money, lack of implementation strategy, excessively lengthy and costly design phase and an overpriced contract award (Cayman Islands Audit Office, 2006:21, 37, 54). This suboptimal experience should have encouraged the Cayman Islands Government to make sure that every control mechanism was put in place to improve future project delivery.

24The cruise berthing is also a test of Cayman’s understanding of modern procurement. It is the most significant public infrastructure venture and the first public-private partnership in Cayman. Public-private partnerships (PPP) are methods of project delivery of public goods, works or services based on cooperation between the public and the private sectors at all project stages. Commonly, the private sector is in charge of designing, building, financing, operating and managing the facilities. The resulting assets revert to public ownership either right after building or on completion of the contract tenure. The cruise berthing will go ahead as a contractual public-private partnership. The chosen private sector partner would be responsible for the design, building, financing, managing and operating the assets built for the first 25 years since construction finishes. The Government justifies the decision on its suitability for cruise berthing. The decision for PPP procurement can be traced back for a decade. It was first suggested in the 2010 Miller-Shaw report 'Addressing the Challenge of Fiscal Sustainability of the Cayman Islands. The Miller-Shaw report was a study commissioned by the UK Parliament and chaired by two elected Members of the UK Parliament and Cayman's financial secretary, the top civil servant in Government accounting. A 2014 E&Y report commissioned by the Cayman Islands Government suggested several areas where the Government should consider PPPs, with the cruise berthing being among them (Panadès-Estruch, 2019a:112). The Cayman Government endorsed the decision in its subsequent 2015 Project Future report (Panadès-Estruch, 2019a:112). Bodden, the top civil servant in the ministry responsible for the cruise berthing, confirms that the infrastructure “lends itself perfectly to PPPs” (Panadès-Estruch, 2019b:7). For the public sector, the use of PPPs has been justified by the Government's inability “to finance the construction of a berthing facility through conventional borrowing methods” and because of dependence on “existing revenue streams [...] from the cruise industry” to fund ongoing operations (Cayman Islands Government, 2013b:5). The berthing project entails an estimated whole-life cost of CI$150 to 170 million (€159 to 180 million) over 20 years (Cayman Islands Auditor General, 2017:7). The Cayman Islands Government and the Port Authority of the Cayman Islands will bear the costs of pre-procurement and expert advice in the business case development (Cayman Islands Government, 2013b:16-17). The private partner will finance construction and collect fees from users of the facility (Cayman Islands Government, 2013b:16-17) and, in turn, will have an “incentive to maximise the use of the facilities by bringing more passengers” (Panadès-Estruch, 2019b: 7). The lack of experience is not stopping the Government pursuing a procurement model that seems an excellent match for the cruise berthing.

25What about future growth? The berthing facilities will not be able to accommodate more than four boats at a time. Historical data shows an upward trend in days welcoming more than four ships. According to internal procurement documentation, Cayman welcomed over four ships on 22 days in 2016, 28 days in 2017 and 20 days in the first half of 2018. The problem concerning the current design of the cruise berthing facility is that it cannot accommodate surges in supply in the short or medium term. As the project stands, Cayman would be bound to the planned capacity of 4 cruise ships for the pre-construction, construction and 25 years of maintenance. Cayman should hold discussions at the earliest opportunity seeking to explore technical solutions with project architects and identify technical solutions and space to expand facilities if needed in the next 25 years and beyond. This potential expansion could include facilities in the current port area or by developing secondary ports. However, COVID-19 has brought cruise ship tourism to a temporary halt and the extent of the long-term damage to the industry remains unknown.

3.2. Managing the impact on cruise ship sector relationships

26Delivering the cruise berthing will reshape the Cayman Islands Government’s relationships with cruise ship providers. Carnival and Royal Caribbean are the leading partners of the private sector consortium that will design, build, finance and manage the infrastructure. This move will have remarkable economic and sociological consequences because, while these are the two most significant players in the Caribbean cruise ship market, they are not the only ones. This subsection looks at how these relationships might evolve and how the Cayman Islands Government can maximise its future bargaining power.

27Cayman’s procurement of the cruise berthing facilities show a sustained lack of engagement from alternative bidders. The more cruise ship companies engage, the more competitive and inclusive the project can be. Instead, as in the cruise berthing’s case, low market engagement leads to excessive dependence from a limited number of cruise ship lines. Eleven potential bidders engaged at the pre-qualification stage but, since negotiations started on 17 December 2018, only one potential bidder engaged with the process to its end. On the one hand, this makes sense because of the project size: not many private sector players have the skill and expertise to deliver a project of this magnitude. On the other hand, remedying the lack of engagement is out of the Government’s control at the award stage.

28Limited bidder engagement highlights short-term concerns regarding pricing fairness and long-term concerns on the future management of relationships with cruise ship companies.

29In the short term, it is not possible to confirm that the winning bid provides a fair price that will deliver value for money. There is no threshold for comparison because only one pre-qualified bidder submitted a bid. The Cayman Islands Government should seek further (written) reassurances from Verdant Isle Port Partners that the project as designed delivers value for money. The Cayman Islands Government could also hire external consultants to build a benchmark based on similar projects. Any comparison would be inexact because of the differences that might exist between projects. However, it is the best option available to provide further reassurances to the host community that the project delivers value for money. If the benchmark shows that Cayman’s cruise berthing is more expensive than others, Cayman could negotiate further seeking more favourable conditions from Verdant Isle. If such information shows that similar infrastructures elsewhere are more expensive, the Government and the general public will gain reassurance that this is a good deal for them.

  • 3 From the author's observations and data by the Cayman Islands Port Authority ship schedules availab (...)

30In the long term, the award to Verdant Isle consolidates excessive dependence on a limited number of cruise ship lines. Carnival and Royal Caribbean show strengths suitable for Cayman's future cruise berthing. First, Carnival and Royal Caribbean rely on their credit rating and strength in financing the project and refused financing by other cruise lines via letters of intent providing preferential berthing rights as the Cayman Government intended. Second, Carnival and Royal Caribbean are the major players in the Caribbean cruise ship sector. The Carnival Corporation and plc comprises some of the main cruise ship companies, including Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Costa Cruises, AIDA Cruises and Holland America Line. The Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd umbrella comprises Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises. However, they are not the only ones. Other popular cruise ship companies frequenting Cayman include Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Viking and Pullmantur.3 Close relationships with only two of the cruise ship players may make the Cayman Islands Government excessively dependant on only two of the prominent industry players and jeopardise its relationships with other providers. Verdant Isle Port Partners' consortium may also feel empowered to obtain contract modifications or more favourable conditions, especially during the pre-construction and maintenance phases, or preferential rights for the use of the infrastructure. The Cayman Islands Government should send letters of intent to involve other cruise lines early on or to welcome comments from them in the berthing design.

3.3. Environmental impact

31Cayman’s environment is its greatest natural resource. This is why environmental, political and sociological issues go hand in hand in discussing the impact of the cruise berthing. The greatest challenge is to reconcile marine wildlife protection with the cruise berthing development. This subsection covers the main environmental arguments, seeking to formulate recommendations for the Cayman Islands Government on managing such concerns. An in-depth enquiry into the berthing's environmental impact is beyond the scope of this article. What this section will show is the main unresolved issues concerning the environmental impact, focusing on crucial Government decisions.

32Environmental issues have been the main point of attack against the cruise berthing. Both the cargo port redevelopment and cruise berthing facilities involve land reclamation. In addition, the current chosen location is a coastal area with high levels of coral and marine life (Cayman Islands Department of Environment, 2016:3). On the one hand, the Cayman Government has worked to pacify the host community’s concerns on the understanding that the environmental impact can be minimised but never eliminated. The current National Tourism Plan acknowledges that 'Caymanians care deeply for their natural environment and frequently express concern that tourism development is creating negative environmental impacts', with the cruise berthing being an example of publicly voiced discomfort (Cayman Islands Government, 2018b:21). As such, they have come up with policies on all fronts. On the other hand, CPR Cayman and, since January 2020, the National Trust of the Cayman Islands (Harris, 2020) have opposed the project and have posed successful legal challenges to the referendum and its enabling law.

33Coral and silt management is the main environmental issue. Cayman hosts coral in multiple locations, reinforcing its biodiversity and creating diving tourism hotspots. The cruise berthing project foresees mapping, transplanting and micro-fragmentation. First, divers will map the presence of coral in the affected areas. After that, coral in affected areas will be removed and relocated to alternative sites a few miles north. Also, the Cayman Islands Government has brought in the 'Plant a million corals foundation' to perform coral micro-fragmentation. This technique sets out how coral can be cut into small sections, planted in a controlled environment and then implanted safely on the seafloor. The foundation claims that micro-fragmentation speeds up coral maturity by ten times, from 25-50 years to 2-3 years (SupPORT our Tourism, 2019:22-24). As per silt, the Government has committed to implement a real-time silt level monitoring and management programme to make sure that change on naturally placed sediments is minimal and that the outlook of Cayman's beaches and seafront does not change (SupPORT our Tourism, 2019:24). The Government informed these decisions by commissioning two environmental impact assessments (EIA): Mott MacDonald’s in 2013 and Baird’s in 2015. These covered the damage to the marine environment, water quality and coral reefs; [and] impacts on waves and sediment transport, in particular the risk of flooding in George Town and erosion of Seven Mile Beach' (Baird, 2015). However, opposers to the cruise berthing claim that these environmental initiatives do not suffice. Concerns identified in 2015 triggered the redesign of parts of the project. CPR Cayman, makes three claims in its opposition. It argues the EIAs have underestimated sediment impact. CPR also claims that silt management alone will not suffice because the cruise berthing will generate 'milky white clouds' in the water that will damage Cayman's reputation of pristine, highly clear waters (CPR Cayman, 2020b). They argue that the coral relocation programme's success is "uncertain and difficult to predict" because some coral formations reach 3-4 metres in height and that current initiatives for relocation and micro-fragmentation "will not re-create the three-dimensional nature of the current environment" (CPR Cayman, 2020b). Additionally, the impact on marine habitat will be irreversible (CPR Cayman, 2020b). In response, in 2020, sectors of Cayman’s civil society have asked for a third environmental impact assessment under claims that Verdant Isle might have downplayed some of the berthing’s impacts on the environment (Ragoonath, 2020; Cayman News Service, 2020a). There has been no official talk about a third EIA. Nevertheless, conflicts between the Government and CPR Cayman on impact assessments look unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

34Among the many uncertainties, one accepted fact is that quality assurance and environmental management amounted to 40% of the total amount of points to be awarded at the prequalification stage - when deciding which bidders should be invited to present proposals for designing, building, financing and managing the facilities (Cayman Islands Ministry of District Administration, Tourism and Transport, 2017). However, the points awarded to Verdant Isle Port Partners remain undisclosed to the public. What the Government should do at this stage is to make sure that the final terms of contracting transfer environmental risks entirely to Verdant Isle Port Partners.

Epilogue – sink or swim

35There are many comical videos of cruise ship passengers desperately racing down a pier, trying in vain to beg their departing ship to wait for them. The Cayman Islands is equally in danger of missing the boat. One Government after another has tried to negotiate the project with potential partners and to persuade the host community to get behind it. The private sector and, in particular, bidders invested efforts in designing an infrastructure suitable for the needs of Cayman. The project remains mired in uncertainty from many fronts and it is impossible to please everyone.

36McLaughlin, Premier until May 2021, kicked the can far into the long grass when he confirmed that the infrastructure project would not go ahead under his term of office and that the next Legislative Assembly elected in the 2021 Legislative Elections will have to take ‘tough decisions’ of their own on the future of the port (CIG Television, 2020b, 48:21-53:23). This session will need to engage with stakeholders carefully. In the following diagram, power and influence are measured from one to three, where one represents maximum power and three minimum power. Priority and importance are ranked from 1 to 3, where lower values indicate maximum importance.

Figure 3. Stakeholder matrix

Figure 3. Stakeholder matrix

37The stakeholder matrix illustrates some of Cayman’s traits. For instance, the main decision-makers are the Government and the voters. Voters hold the key to power, provided that a referendum is the only way to keep the cruise berthing afloat. Cayman’s voting population represents only a low percentage of residents. Only 32% of residents can vote, that is around 21,800 registered electors out of 68,000 residents (Cayman Islands Economics and Statistics Office, 2020; Cayman Islands Elections Office, 2020). Cayman houses many non-nationals as residents with work permits, permanent residents or those having gained residence by other means (i.e. investments). Thus, votes carry more individual weight than in other countries due to the limited pool of eligible voters. Consequently, non-voters can only participate in civil society campaigns in an attempt to steer the referendum outcome.

38As the situation stands, it is unlikely that the project will go forward. This decision tree represents the next steps for the Cayman Islands Government.

Figure 4. Decision tree

Figure 4. Decision tree

39As shown in the decision tree, building the berthing is more unlikely than likely, only happening in 40% of the scenarios, or two out of five possible outcomes. Discarding is a far easier option politically, which requires for the Government to just discard the project. Instead, if the Government chooses to pursue it, they will have to go through a Referendum only after May 2021. This is likely to result in discarding the cruise berthing altogether.

40This research has been shaped by the width of the topic and the boundaries of journal articles. Notably, section 3 on the host community impact is limited to selected aspects, reporting only the main issues. Additionally, the COVID-19's impact on the cruise ship sector is still uncertain. On the one hand, the future cruise ship market might affect Carnival and Royal Caribbean’s commitment to procure the cruise berthing. On the other hand, a robust economic recovery after COVID-19 and elections in 2021 in Cayman might tilt the balance either way. The country might decide to bet it all on cruise ship tourism or revamping Cayman's economic model altogether away from cruise ship tourism. How long, or if it all, the sector will take to recover the pre-COVID-19 passenger figures is guesswork. The article formulated recommendations based on current knowledge. Regardless of the events and their impact on the future of Cayman's cruise berthing, the Government will find it difficult to reconcile a divided society.

41The past decade of the Cayman Islands' port has shown how a small community is hugely divided about defining the limits of acceptable change. What this drama has shown is something very familiar to academics: that having spent a great deal of time on a task does not mean it will be finished any time soon. The cruise berthing might need many more than three acts and probably a few sequels. Ten years, four legislative elections, two environmental impact assessment reports, two unsuccessful attempts to hold a referendum and growing host community opposition have not led to any meaningful decisions. Whether the Government sinks the project or keeps it afloat, the host community shall learn how to reflect and cooperate on major strategic projects before the curtain falls.

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1 See the monument located in the Cayman Islands at Heroes Square.

2 Personal attendance of the author, Family Life Centre, 14 Nov 2019, George Town, Cayman Islands.

3 From the author's observations and data by the Cayman Islands Port Authority ship schedules available at URL: <>.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Rendering of the design of the facilities
Crédits Source: SupPORT our Tourism, 2019:35.
Fichier image/png, 2,4M
Titre Figure 2. PESTLE analysis on the cruise berthing impact on the host community
Fichier image/jpeg, 172k
Titre Figure 3. Stakeholder matrix
Fichier image/jpeg, 143k
Titre Figure 4. Decision tree
Fichier image/png, 33k
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Laura Panadès-Estruch, « Building Cruise Berthing Facilities in the Cayman Islands: an Unfinished Drama in Three Acts », Études caribéennes [En ligne], 47 | Décembre 2020, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2020, consulté le 17 avril 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Laura Panadès-Estruch

Cayman Islands Law School, LLM Course Leader in International Finance, Cayman Islands Public Procurement Committee, member, University of Cambridge, PhD candidate in Law,

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