Galveston: ‘We Are Ready’ For Cruise Ships

Carnival Vista in Galveston

“We are ready. We think we have all the pieces in place, Galveston would be a great place for the cruise lines to launch their test cruises,” Rodger Rees, CEO and port director, told Cruise Industry News. “The message we are sending is that we are all ready to go back to work.”

Over the past several months, Galveston has installed touchless plumbing in its terminals, added UV-lamps to its HVAC system and also to the escalators, so every time the railing goes around it is sanitized, Rees explained. Elevators have self-cleaning buttons.

Plexiglass dividers have been installed anywhere there is contact between people, like Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and passengers, and mobile plexiglass dividers have been installed at all ticket counters.

The terminals also feature hand sanitizer stations throughout.

All the equipment has been paid for by the port, with its board approving $120,000 of additional funding.

Preparedness

“We are having conversations with several of the cruise lines about what might potentially take place here,” Rees continued. “Carnival Cruise Line picked Galveston as one of the first three cruise ports to go into operation, and we have discussed agreements with them that would allow ships into port if there happens to be a COVID case aboard. Those agreements also include local health providers, and we have a 1,000-bed hospital right across from the port.”

Rees said the port already had some experience when Carnival and Royal Caribbean International brought ships into port with crew aboard that had to be repatriated.

One infected crewmember was met by first responders, which used a dedicated exit to take him to the hospital.Incident Response Team

“We are prepared (for incidents),” Rees said. “We have an incident response group that consists of several state, county and city emergency response team members, as well as local fire departments, city administration, first responders, CBP and the Coast Guard.

“Our stevedores, ship agents and terminal personnel are also part of it.

“That means we can pull 130 individuals together who have various roles in situations; ordinarily it would be a hurricane.”

He said the port conducted an exercise in the early part of the fall and was planning another one before year’s end.”

Opportunities

With Royal Caribbean building a new terminal, Rees said that plans called for construction to start last April, but that it has been pushed back to April of this year.

Slated to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2022 to coincide with the arrival of the Allure of the Seas, that means that Royal Caribbean will vacate Terminal 2, which in turn means space for potentially other cruise lines to sail from the port. Rees said that two other lines had made inquiries.

Meanwhile, the largest operator out of Galveston is Carnival, which has exclusive use of Terminal 1 and option dates on Terminal 2.

Carnival has had three ships sailing there with plans to add a fourth.

In addition to Royal and Carnival sailing year-round, Disney Cruise Line operates seasonally from the Texas port and has committed to double their sailings over the next five years, according to Rees.

For 2020, Galveston had 327 scheduled calls as the year got underway, but ended up with 69 as the industry shut down.

Break-Even

With 60 percent of the port’s revenue coming from cruise, Rees said that because of what is called lay business, he expects to break even in 2020. (Lay business is cargo ships that call to refuel, change crew or go through Coast Guard inspections. Normally, these ships go to Houston, but have instead been coming to Galveston, berthing at its empty cruise terminals.)

“It is a victory for us,” he added. “We have not had to lay off a single person employed by the port.

“Galveston is a tourist destination,” he continued. “Last year we had seven million visitors.

“We are anxiously waiting for the cruise lines to return.”

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