Australia to Allow Ships to Dock at Sydney Naval Base

Many new cruise ships are too tall to fit under Sydney Harbor Bridge

Australia's federal government has decided to let cruise ships share the Garden Island naval base in Sydney with military vessels, a move that’s drawing praise from New South Wales government leaders and the cruise industry.

Over the weekend, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that three cruise berths will be guaranteed at the Navy's headquarters docks for this year and next while the government develops a permanent plan for shared usage of those docks in future years.

In the decision, announced in a speech at a New South Wales labor conference, Gillard cited the cruise industry's positive economic impact:

"When the Queen Mary 2...came to Sydney in March it brought 2,500 visitors to the city on its own. With a guarantee of expanded capacity, we could see a visit of that kind every month in summer. That’s why we’re expanding the number of guaranteed berths for the biggest visiting cruise vessels – ensuring three visits this coming cruise season and another three the next. And we’ll prepare a plan to meet the long-term needs of our cruise industry."

The full text of Gillard's speech, which covered multiple economic topics, is here:

A local Sydney business chamber has estimated the cruise industry's positive economic impact to the New South Wales economy as $1 billion by the end of this decade.

The government's latest decision reversed a previous policy expected to ban more cruise ships from using the Sydney naval facility in the future.

The decision could be considered a victory for Ann Sherry, CEO of Carnival Australia, who had publicly opposed an independent review commissioned by the Australian minister of defense.

That review concluded that joint usage by military vessels and cruise ships was incompatible. The thinking was flawed, Sherry said publicly.

Sherry now praises Gillard's announcement as a good short-term solution. Now, the largest ships visiting Sydney can utilize three berths at Garden Island on the east side of Sydney Harbor.

The problem for Sydney as a cruise port of call or embarkation port is really an issue of height. Most new cruise ships being constructed today are simply too tall to sail under the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

Coupled with that, Sydney’s docking facilities for these big ships are inadequate. The existing Overseas Passenger Terminal at Sydney Cove can only accommodate one large ship at a time.

At times, cruise ships - such as Cunard Line's (www.cunard.comQueen Mary 2 - have been given access to the Garden Isle docks, but the new decision solidifies availability for more ships, at least over the next two years.

Not everyone is happy, though. After the latest decision was announced, the Australian Defense Association said the cruise industry is essentially stealing from taxpayers. It wants a separate cruise facility in Port Jackson.

The group also believes the decision will keep some new military ships from having access to the Sydney naval base and that security is a concern - with thousands of cruise passengers disembarking from multiple ships on any given day.

Travel agents may read about the military community's objections in the Sydney Morning Herald's article:

Currently, guests who disembark ships at Garden Isle are ferried into the city. That will likely continue, but the government is also assessing the potential for a new Customs facility to be constructed on the base so cruise guests could simply walk into the city.

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