Thinking Big in Sydney: Australian Government to Tackle Cruise Ship Congestion

June 17, 2011
(11:30 a.m. EDT) -- Following last week's announcement by Royal Caribbean that the 137,308-ton, 3,114-passenger Voyager of the Seas will be based in Australia from the end of 2012, the Australian government has agreed to look into the problem of where to put the biggest ships visiting Sydney. Mooring in the city is becoming a real issue. Larger vessels too tall to fit under the Sydney Harbour Bridge have to dock at Circular Quay, which only has one berth. Even those that do fit under the iconic span are facing competition for space at the Overseas Passenger Terminal, thanks to the cruise boom in Australia. Sydney alone has enjoyed 150 ship calls so far for the 2011 season, up 26 percent over last year. What's more, ships are getting bigger. According to Carnival Australia, the country's biggest cruise company, by 2020 two-thirds of vessels visiting Sydney will be unable to squeeze under the bridge. The solution? A review is to be carried out into the feasibility of opening up the Garden Island naval base in Sydney Harbour to large cruise ships. This would result in cruise ships sharing space with the Royal Australian Navy, something that now only happens on rare special occasions. Allan Hawke, a former Australian secretary of defence, will conduct the review, with a report expected by the end of the year. It's not all going to be plain sailing, though: Garden Island is one of Australia's two main naval bases but itself could be facing pressure, as several new naval ships are due to be delivered over the next few years. But the review has been welcomed by Carnival Australia chief executive Ann Sherry. She told the cruise industry Web site Seatrade: “The industry is already contributing about A$3bn [$3.1 billion or £1.96 bn] a year to the Australian economy, however a lack of infrastructure on the eastern side of Sydney Harbour Bridge is the biggest constraint to the industry continuing its growth trajectory.” --by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor