Navy Sinks Sydney’s Big Ship Dreams

March 29, 2012

(10:30 a.m. EDT) -- Sydney's hopes to expand its cruise appeal by allowing large ships to share the city's Garden Island dock with the Australian Navy have been scuppered, to the disappointment of cruise liners.

According to newspaper The Australian, an independent review by former Defence Department Secretary Dr Allan Hawke has found the proposal for big ships to share the naval base is "essentially incompatible" with the future needs of the navy.

Cruise lines have long been pushing for larger ships to be able to dock at Garden Island during the busy season of December to March. The only other option for those ships too big to sail under the Harbour Bridge is the Overseas Passenger Terminal (near the Sydney Opera House) which is already under pressure and can only accommodate one large ship at a time. And by 2015, industry body Tourism Accommodation Australia (NSW) estimates that half of all ships calling at Sydney will be too tall to clear the bridge.

Some, like Queen Mary 2, have used Garden Island in the past, but approval has to be granted by the Australian Navy as far as two years in advance.

Ann Sherry, chief executive of Carnival Australia, which represents 80% of Australia's domestic cruise industry, argued that lack of suitable docks for big ships would drive cruise lines away. She told Australian trade newspaper Travel Weekly: "We know that if port facilities in Sydney aren't right, the whole of Australia suffers. Singapore and other major world cities have embraced cruising and have built state-of-the-art facilities to make the most of the economic opportunity."

The decision to close Garden Island to cruise ships isn't final yet; the Australian government still needs to review a transport and infrastructure paper. But the cruise industry is growing so fast in Australia, expanding at a rate of 44% between 2010 and 2011, that a solution will have to be found to meet demand.

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor