Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Right whale rule sinks cruise ship visit

One of two large cruise ships that was expected to bring thousands of passengers to the Midcoast in June has dropped its plans because of a federal right whale regulation. The Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas announced to local officials Friday night that its Rockland port stop had been canceled. The 916-foot-long cruise ship can carry 2,446 passengers with a crew of 760.In its announcement, the company cited the federal restriction that limits vessels to no greater than 10 knots (11.5 miles) per hour in seasonal management areas imposed to protect the North Atlantic right whale. That protective area extends off Cape Cod and the cruise ship would have passed through it on the trip to Rockland.The average cruising speed for the Grandeur of the Seas is 22 knots.The seasonal management area restriction runs from March 1 through July 31.The restriction is not expected to have any impact on the still scheduled arrival of the other Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the Jewel of the Seas, which is scheduled to make a port call in Rockland on Oct. 4. The Jewel of the Seas is larger than the Grandeur at 962 feet long. The vessel can carry 2,501 passengers and a crew of 852."This was scheduled to be the inaugural visit for Rockland, so of course we are disappointed," said Frank Isganitis, chairman of the chamber's Cruise Committee. "However, the circumstances are completely beyond our control." "While we feel it's unfortunate for the communities of the Midcoast to lose this opportunity, we understand and value the need to protect the right whale population," said Amy Powers, director of the Cruise Maine Coalition. "We hope that Royal Caribbean will be able to adjust their sailing itineraries moving forward to include the transit time modification needed to abide by this new law and still be able to enjoy Rockland and our surrounding communities as a port of call."Dan Bookham, the executive director of the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce, said it was disappointing news but the business community will move forward and continue to try to attract cruise ships. The community also is pleased that it has the weekly summer visits of the smaller American Cruise Line ships."There are some things out of our control," Bookham said about the speed restriction that led Royal Caribbean to cancel the Grandeur of the Seas visit.The projected number of visitors to downtown Camden would have been 1,000 to 1,200 people, he said."That would have been a big day, an enjoyable day," he said.Local businesses in Rockland and Camden had been planning ways to greet and accommodate what was to be one of the largest influxes of tourists for a single day.According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, only approximately 350 northern right whales exist despite more than 60 years of protection. The whales had been hunted for at least 800 years, according to NOAA. There are only five areas where these whales are believed to congregate and two are in the vicinity of Cape Cod.Ship strikes are considered one of the great risks for northern right whales. These whales swim slowly and tend to stay near the ocean's surface.NOAA announced the speed restriction on Dec. 9. According to NOAA, 25 of 71 of the deaths of these whales were due to being struck by a ship.By Stephen Betts The Herald Gazette Associate Editor

No comments: