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Cruise ships bring record 503,675 passengers to city

Oct 25 2012
MS Zaandam, the final cruise ship of the season at Ogden Point, paid a six-hour visit on Wednesday. The vessel was on its way from Vancouver to San Diego. 

MS Zaandam, the final cruise ship of the season at Ogden Point, paid a six-hour visit on Wednesday. The vessel was on its way from Vancouver to San Diego.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam , Victoria Times Colonist

The number of cruise-ship passengers arriving at Ogden Point this year topped half a million for the first time.

The Victoria port saw 224 ship visits during a season that began in April and wrapped up Wednesday, when the Zaandam pulled in at 8 a.m. for a six-hour visit.

Those vessels carried 503,675 passengers and about 208,000 crew members.

While ship emissions and traffic remain a concern for James Bay residents, the general manager of the Downtown Victoria Business Association says Government Street businesses rely on cruise-ship passenger spending during tough times in the tourism sector.

“The cruise-ship passengers are playing a much more significant role relative to their whole income stream than [in] previous years,” Ken Kelly said Wednesday.

This year’s cruise season also saw Ogden Point’s first five-ship day, on May 31. Those vessels carried more than 9,000 passengers, said Sonterra Ross, chief operating officer for the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.

The number of annual ship calls will likely stabilize at about 220, based on industry trends, Ross said.

Next year’s schedule has not been finalized, but the 315-metre Celebrity Solstice, with room for 2,850 passengers, is expected to make 15 to 20 visits. The largest ship to arrive this year was 296 metres long.

To address traffic concerns, the harbour authority anticipates issuing a request for proposals for a shuttle service between the port and downtown before year’s end, Ross said. The contract, to run for five years, will include stringent standards for noise and emissions.

A new dock planned between Pier B at Ogden Point and the adjacent Helijet pad would also reduce street traffic, Ross said.

Passengers getting off cruise ships could walk to the new dock and board a ferry to downtown. Approvals are being sought from Fisheries and Oceans Canada for the dock, which would also be used by excursion outfits such as whale-watching companies to collect passengers.

The harbour authority clamped down this year on speeding taxis by suspending drivers from Ogden Point for an average of three days, Ross said.

“It definitely had a positive impact.”

Marg Gardiner, chairwoman of the James Bay Neighbourhood Association, said the speeding suspensions were effective, but traffic volumes this year were similar to last year’s.

“It is just as bad as it was.”

Ship emissions containing sulphur dioxide remain a worry to the association, which has worked with federal officials to reduce air pollution.

Even so, there are still periods of high sulphur-dioxide levels, Gardiner said, adding with only one air-quality monitor on Erie Street, it’s not possible to evaluate emissions in all parts of the community. The association is calling for a monitor east of Ogden Point to measure air quality when west-southwest winds are blowing.

The James Bay association presented dirty-air awards to cruise lines this year, while the harbour authority has started giving out awards to cruise lines that consistently use low-sulphur fuel while at Ogden Point.

Gardiner said the number of passengers on ships does not represent the number visiting the city. Only about 60 per cent of passengers leave the ship while it’s in dock, she said. “We don’t need exaggeration.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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