OOE: News So Good, They Announced it Again

Friday at 3:58 pm is usually when people announce news they hope will be forgotten by Monday, so I thought it a bit odd to receive a media alert at precisely that time last Friday from Elyse Mailhot, a media relations person with One Ocean Expeditions (OOE).

L-R Royal Canadian Geographic Society CEO John Geiger, CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke, One Ocean Expeditions founder Andrew ProssinL-R Royal Canadian Geographic Society CEO John Geiger, CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke, One Ocean Expeditions founder Andrew Prossin

L-R Royal Canadian Geographic Society CEO John Geiger, CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke, One Ocean Expeditions (OOE) founder Andrew Prossin at Port of Sydney marine terminal, 31 July 2017 (Photo courtesy OOE)

OOE is an environmentally minded cruise company (founded by Cape Breton-born Andrew Prossin) that specializes in Arctic and Antarctic tours and is ready to do anything to preserve the pristine and fragile environments it visits (except stay out of them, but where’s the profit in that?)

Friday’s media alert stated:

Members of the Media are invited to an announcement hosted by Cape Breton Mayor Cecil Clarke and Founder and Managing Director of One Ocean Expeditions, Andrew Prossin in Sydney, N.S. One Ocean Expeditions Canada’s Global Polar Exploration Leader, is proudly announcing the expansion of their fleet and operations.

It sounded like our mayor had finally succeeded in calling a news conference that involved some, you know, actual news, but when it came right down to it, it turned out Prossin was repeating the same announcement — with the same caveats — he’d made at Ports Day in May: OOE would like to make Sydney its home port, when the new berth is built and if it can offer refueling services.

In fact, according to the Post, Prossin has added new requirements:

“We just need to see a little bit of change in some of the regulations to make it easier to do business in a place like Sydney,” he told reporters. “I’ll be honest, the deck is a bit stacked, the rules sort of give us an incentive to do more in places like Halifax because offices have been moved to Halifax and different departments in the government, Transport Canada, Canada Customs, et cetera, et cetera.

“We’d like to see a bit more redevelopment or reopening of some of these offices in Sydney so that we can more freely operate in a place like this and get all of our regulatory requirements done here.”

The regulatory changes that are needed are mostly at the federal level, he said.

First, may I just note how little use our “Foreign Trade Zone” designation seems to be in this situation? And we were so excited about it. Second, Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking told the Post he is working to accommodate Prossin, although opening the necessary offices in Sydney doesn’t seem to be part of the solution. Said Eyking:

Even though these departments’ regional head offices are in Halifax, they are more than obliging to come down and help out and to accommodate anything that we need to do.

The issue of “international garbage” (I picture mounds of Belgian beer bottles and French cheese rinds) is one of ensuring “staff is around,” according to Eyking.

Given that we are supposedly within six months (by our own port marketer’s estimate) of landing a shipping line for what will be an international mega-container ship terminal in our harbor, doesn’t it seem a little odd that issues like customs and disposal of “international garbage” are obstacles to one company docking one ship here?

 

Resolute

The “news” announced at the press conference was that OOE is chartering a new vessel for the 2018-19 season — the RCGS Resolute. (The RCGS stands for Royal Canadian Geographic Society, OOE’s “partner” in the Canadian North.)

For the record, the “new” vessel is not actually new. As Monty Mathisen explains in Cruise Industry News, it was ordered from Finland’s Rauma Yards in 1989 by the Seattle-based adventure cruise line Society Expeditions for a 1991 delivery, to be followed by a second ship a year later:

But news unfolded a week before delivery as Society announced it would not take delivery of the ship and blamed the shipyard. The title of the vessel was then transferred back to a subsidiary of the shipyard. Previous to this, the second ship’s contract was cancelled despite positive comments from the cruise line regarding the ship’s construction in local press.

Rauma Yards then put the 8,200-ton expedition ship up for sale, noting it could cruise for two months without taking fuel or provisions with an operating range of 8,500 nautical miles.

1992 saw Society Expeditions file for bankruptcy while in September, Germany’s Hanseatic Tours signed a two-year charter deal for the ship, with operations starting in March 1993. The ship was renamed Hanseatic and Hanseatic Tours was eventually purchased by Hapag-Lloyd in 1997.

Mathesin reports OOE is chartering the vessel from Hapag-Lloyd with options to 2028. Prossin told Cruise Industry News he chose the Hanseatic/Resolute because:

It’s got a good ice rating and a high caliber of construction with a great rating under the new Polar Code. It has similar engineering to our existing ships, having been built in the same shipyard but being five years newer.

 

In other news…

The OOE press release says the expansion of its fleet (from two to three vessels) and programming will result in an expansion of its Canadian-based operations in Squamish, British Columbia:

Growing quickly, and in advance of this expansion OOE has increased it’s [sic] full time employees by 25% in the last number of months.

Which is nice, for Squamish (although the decision to describe the increase in employees as a percentage rather than an absolute number suggests the number isn’t that high) but why announce it in Sydney?

And while we’re asking questions, how’s that second berth coming along? Has Jerry Nickerson agreed to sell the land for it for less than $6 million? Are you going to have to expropriate? What kind of remediation is necessary? Will Sydney be able to offer refueling services?

So many questions!

Alex Trebek (who just happened to be traveling on the Akademik Ioffe, the OOE ship in port on Monday) must have felt right at home.

 

No news

Even the Post wasn’t totally buying the hype this time, beginning its story on Monday’s announcement this way:

Improved infrastructure and access to services such as customs are among the issues that need to be addressed in order for an expedition cruise company to make full use of the port of Sydney, its CEO says.

That is clearly not enough to hang a press conference on, but throw in a new vessel and an expansion of services in Squamish, BC and you almost have a reason to call reporters to a wharf 6,000 km away.

I’ve been trying to pin down exactly what this means for Sydney in the short term and it’s surprisingly difficult to do. For example, OOE offered three Cape Breton-based voyages in 2017: a 10-night Labrador and Torngat Mountains Explorer departing Louisbourg; a 10-night, Fins & Fiddles cruise departing Louisbourg; and a 10-night, Fins & Fiddles cruise departing Sydney.

The Sydney-based cruise is scheduled to leave on September 10. I asked Mailhot if, given there is as yet no second berth in Sydney, it would be departing from the existing wharf. She said yes, initially, then wrote back to say she was waiting for confirmation this would be the case. For what it’s worth, OOE is not listed on the 2017 Port of Sydney cruise schedule. (Update: Mailhot says, “The September 2017 and 2018 “Fins and Fiddles” voyages were originally scheduled to depart from Louisbourg but plans have changed and they will now depart from Sydney…The information on the website will soon be updated.”)

For 2018, there is currently no cruise listed on the OOE website as departing Sydney, although the Post is now reporting OOE intends to begin docking the RCGS Resolute here as of November 2018.

As for provisioning, OOE keeps throwing out the figure $6 million as the amount it spent on provisions last year in Halifax and the media is dutifully reporting it, although no one has asked to see receipts. (This is a classic example of citizens being asked to accept on faith what any businessman worth his salt would demand be documented).

I asked Mailhot about provisioning in Sydney and she emailed me:

In order to justify doing all the purchasing in Sydney OOE needs to be able to get all tasks done in the city to no longer have an additional call in Halifax. Otherwise it creates a redundant port call.

To answer your question, OOE has already started buying supplies and equipment in Sydney. They recently hired a local tradesman to build an approved tank for storing fuel onboard its small boat operations.

OOE also loaded all the food stores for one ship for the three-month long Arctic cruise season.  I believe OOE used a Halifax based supplier to delivered [sic] goods to Sydney.

Basically, there may eventually come a day when the second berth is finished and a deal has been struck to provide fuel and arrangements have been made with the federal government to handle customs issues and “international garbage” and One Ocean Expeditions is docking and provisioning ships here.

When that day comes, I think it would be entirely appropriate to call a news conference. Until that day comes, if you’re, say, a municipal leader who has already called a series of news-less, port-related, press conferences, you probably should resist the temptation.

Otherwise, you risk becoming known as The Mayor Who Cried News.

 

 

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