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Apr 29, 2004

Huge cruise port project launched

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If there were any doubts about Belize’s commitment to cruise tourism, they were dispelled today as the Government, Port, and Carnival Corporation inaugurated what may well rank as the largest single private development project in the nation’s history. And while it appears that certain legal impediments have not yet been removed from the scene, there was no room for pessimism this morning as all parties to the deal joined in the good cheer.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

There was no caviar in sight, but the champagne was all over table…after all, it’s not everyday a project valued at 50 million U.S. dollars is signed in Belize.

And the man at the centre of the transaction is local businessman, Luke Espat. Espat, the man who put it all on the line to purchase the port operation from government, has been working tirelessly for the past year to swing a deal with the Carnival Corporation and Ports of Belize. And if everything goes according to plan, in approximately two years, this site will boast a modern pier and cruise terminal, able to accommodate some of the largest ships on the sea.

Giora Israel, Vice President Carnival Corporation

“This will be the biggest, most expensive transit port we have ever built anywhere in the world, so this is very special.”

According to Giora Israel, Vice President of the Carnival Corporation: owners of more than twelve cruise lines across the world, the Belize venture will mean increased economic benefits for all concerned.

Giora Israel

“A lot of cruises today are starting in areas like Tampa, Mobile, Alabama, New Orleans, Galveston, Houston and they all can come to Belize. And Belize is a wonderful balance to Mexico so cruises that include Belize, Mexico and let?s say Honduras, will work very, very well, there is stability, political, economic stability which makes Belize to fit in very, very well in the Western Caribbean itineraries.”

“Our project, our intention, along with Mr. Espat here and Belize Ports, is to create a real port so the people can stay longer, that the ships don?t have to be on engines, so that the captain for example can come… the captain, he couldn?t come today, he?s on the ship, running the ship, eighty percent of the crew cannot get off the ship and it?s very important for us to get the crews open.”

With construction set to start in little over a month, this is a project that the politicians promise will bring much needed capital and investment opportunities to an impoverished area of the city.

Prime Minister Said Musa

“But even more importantly perhaps, will be the hundreds of jobs that will be created during the construction phase, as well as afterwards because the plans and designs I have seen calls for a lot of new business activity that will take place. It?s not just a berthing facility, it will also have a lot of new business activity taking place, which will boost, uplift, the entire south side of Belize.”

But today, the Government of Belize does find itself between Carnival?s cold cash and a rock hard exclusive agreement it signed with the cruise line?s competitor, Royal Caribbean and its tourism village facility, located just across the harbour. Prime Minister Said Musa is confident the contracts do not conflict.

Prime Minister Said Musa

“I see this as a value added. I believe it is as a win-win situation and I believe that we?ve been able to persuade the other parties that this is so. So I don?t see it in conflict at all and I think we will be able to work things out very smoothly.”

“People will continue to go to the Fort George Tourist Village by tender, and of course those that go there will continue to get their head tax and those that come here, the reverse will apply. It?s being worked out and I?m sure that there won?t be any conflict at all.”

Janelle Chanona

“So in the end, Carnival won?t be paying Royal Caribbean for its passengers going?”

Prime Minister Said Musa

“I?m not saying that, I?m not saying that. But I believe an amicable solution is being worked out or has been worked out.”

Giora Israel

“The government is very, very comfortable, and you should have seen it today in this ceremony with almost the participation of the entire government, except for Minister Mark Espat who is on his honeymoon, congratulations Mark, that the government believes that this project can stand on its own, it?s not competing with Royal Caribbean, that?s not harming them in any way, and remember, what they have is a tender pier, this is port of call, this is part of Belize Ports to have ports so that people will not come on tenders. So we believe very comfortably about our position, and I believe, so is the government.”

With the Carnival investment now securely under his belt, Espat is putting the facilities? business opportunities on the block.

Luke Espat, Belize Ports Limited

“The business facility inside the terminal are rented spaces, as is on the other side. But this is a free zone and as you can see there will be a big boulevard with land being able for properties to buy to cater for the tourist industry, also warehousing for it, and operating strictly within a facility that compliments each other. So what I would like to do is tell our people to start getting ready, to get involved and take up their stake in it in whichever way or form.”

While a fifty million U.S. dollar investment is a monster by Belizean standards, to Carnival it ranks somewhere between beer money and chump change. According to the company’s annual report, it earned a net profit of one point two billion U.S. dollars in 2003 on gross revenues of six point seven billion. Operating through a series of offshore corporations, Carnival, which calls itself the leisure industry’s most profitable company, paid only twenty-nine million U.S. dollars in income taxes last year.

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