Port of Sydney Update: Capital, Cruise & COVID

The new board chair of the Port of Sydney Development Corporation (PSDC), James Kerr, presented to CBRM council during its regular November meeting last week, a topic I touched on briefly in last week’s Fast & Curious, because Kerr announced the board had decided to make its minutes public and I couldn’t wait to get a look at them.

In fact, Kerr told council the board had voted “unanimously” to make its minutes public, so we’ve got that going for us.

Kerr also told council that “Cruise is back” in 2022. In particular, he noted that the coming season will bring with it the much-awaited day on which two — count ’em — cruise ships will dock simultaneously in Sydney harbor, thanks to the new second berth. Kerr says celebrations are planned, and while I can understand the urge to celebrate your $20 million investment finally being put to the purpose for which it was constructed, I fear celebrating the ability of two vessels to dock at the same time will make us look, frankly, ridiculous. But perhaps I’m being overly sensitive.

Kerr also warned council the board was still looking for a few “tweaks” to the corporation’s Articles of Association (I wrote much too much about those “tweaks” back in 2020) before segueing into the main subject of the presentation: plans to turn the cruise pavilion and DesBarres’ Cove (which we’re now to call “Fishermen’s Cove”) into a retail destination.

I wrote about these plans at some length when they were first presented at the Port’s most recent AGM, but they have progressed somewhat since then. Kerr said the board, when it first heard the plans, thought they would be a good way to “create employment” (i.e. a handful of seasonal, part-time, low-wage retail jobs), to increase revenue for the port and to increase services available to CBRM residents, suggesting the port, as a facility, was “extremely underutilized.”

We need more businesses to provide more “retail therapy” to CBRM residents who are currently, apparently, wasting their time simply enjoying the view of the harbor and getting some exercise. “Right now there’s not a whole lot of places, retail-wise, that you can spend your money,” said Kerr.

And of course, this will be a boon for the cruise passengers, who are known for complaining about their experience in downtown Sydney. Kerr seems to believe the opportunity to shop from the moment they disembark will convince them to return for “six to eight days.”



Kerr then turned the podium over to Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher, who began with an update on cruise, in which she claimed the Port had achieved a new level of “diversity” in its cruise calls, because the Holland America Line will account for only 21 of them in 2022 where it has, in the past, accounted for 50% or more.

This, of course, ignores the high level of concentration of ownership in the cruise industry where Holland America is owned by Carnival Corporation which also owns:

  • AIDA
  • Carnival Cruise Line
  • Costa Cruises
  • Cunard Line
  • P&O Cruises
  • P&O Cruises Australia
  • Princess Cruises
  • Seabourn Cruise Line

While Royal Caribbean owns:

  • Azamara
  • Celebrity Cruises
  • Pullmantur Cruises
  • Royal Caribbean International
  • Silversea Cruises
  • TUI Cruises

And Norwegian Cruise Lines owns:

  • Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Oceania Cruises
  • Regent Seven Seas Cruises

You’ll need to press your nose against your monitor to read this list of cruise ships expected in Sydney in 2022, but I can assure you, those three companies represent the vast majority of them:


Usher noted the 180,000 passenger total for 2022 is higher than the 158,000 total for 2019, although fewer ships are expected. She attributed this to the increased size of the vessels while also saying they don’t expect the ships to be fully occupied, rather, they expect occupancy to be at 65% to 75% and will discount their revenues for the season accordingly.



Usher said the Port belongs to a number of committees preparing to reopen the country to cruise ships, including one led by Transport Canada, and it now looks like all passengers will have to be double-vaccinated to enter Canada, although she said this might change by the spring of 2022.

She also raised the possibility of passengers having to “bubble” rather than move about freely downtown and on shore excursions.

Usher says the Port is also working to prepare the community for the return of cruise, and claims all their partners are feeling much more comfortable about the idea of “that many passengers coming ashore.” Nevertheless, she admitted that the COVID situation is “fluid” and the Port doesn’t really know what things will look like by next spring.

She then showed council this slide — the “Cruise Recovery Dashboard” produced by Bermello Ajamil, a cruise consultancy, and I can only hope council saw a more legible version because this looks like the wrath of God to me.

Usher said that this is updated as of November and that, according to BA, there have been over 3.5 million people cruising and just 239 positive COVID cases.

No one questioned Usher as to the time period or geographical area (all year? all over the world?) and I can’t read the slide, but this information doesn’t jibe with what the US Centers for Disease Control is saying about COVID on cruise ships. In late October, the CDC extended its “conditional sailing order” requiring cruise lines to follow COVID-19 protocols to 15 January 2022 and said (on page 21 of that document I linked to):

With an increase in traveler volume, cruise ships have experienced increased numbers of COVID-19 cases among passengers and crew. Between June 26–October 21, 2021, 1,359 [emphasis mine] laboratory confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported to CDC by cruise ships…

I’d like to hear how BA calculated its numbers.

BA Cruise Recovery Dashboard


Capital spending

It took the pandemic, apparently, to make the Port realize they “had all their eggs in the cruise basket,” so the plan now is to “increase the appeal of the waterfront for the community at large.”

And let me just say it: I applaud this. The waterfront is a public resource. The money that was spent on the boardwalk has made it a truly great feature of the community and I’m for more of this — especially for replacing the play area that was lost to the Marconi Campus (District 5 Councilor Eldon MacDonald says he hears about this a lot from his constituents).

Plan for Sydney waterfront


Usher’s plan calls for turning Pittman Hall (which hosts “three to five” events each year) into a market at a cost of $850,000. They have an “anchor tenant” identified (she hinted at a “large off-island” business, which would par for the course with the Port, which is already supporting many off-island businesses, from the cruise lines themselves to Dennis Campbell’s Halifax-based Ambassatours) and have already approached other possible tenants, who will apparently be handpicked.

Then there’s the Fishermen’s Cove plan, which will see the construction — at an estimated cost of $5.2 million — of a wooden platform with four kiosks housing eight businesses. They would also like to continue the boardwalk to the Pavilion and keep it open year round (i.e. clear the snow off it).

Between the urban market and the Fishermen’s Cove, there would be 46 (!) new businesses on the waterfront which I will believe when I see.

The plan seems to include plenty of options for spending time on the waterfront without spending money — including “tiered seating” and a large, well-lit patio — which is good, because if the public is going to pay for it, the public should be free to enjoy it. Moreover, they should be free to enjoy it without fear that the wharf is going to collapse beneath them. You think I’m joking, but check out the next item.



Richard Morykot of CBCL reported on the engineering aspects of the project beginning with the “less flashy but perhaps very important” issue of a sinkhole in the south dock. His slideshow is kind of hilariously self-explanatory:

Usher has budgeted $1.62 million for the repair.

Asked by District 8 Councilor James Edwards how much profit the Port makes, Usher said that in 2019 they made “over $1 million” in profit which they put in reserve for capital expenses although they spent some of it through COVID.

District 6 Councilor Glenn Paruch asked how accurate Class B estimates are and Public Works Manager Wayne MacDonald says they are “plus or minus 25%.”

District 5 Councilor Eldon MacDonald said he considered the sinkhole a “must fix” (for now, the Port is making sure no one parks on top of it) but neither he, nor anyone else, suggested separating and expediting this clearly vital part of the project from the rest of the scheme.

Instead, they voted (unanimously) to support the project “in principal” freeing Usher to begin sending off her funding applications to all the usual suspects.