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Jun 8, 2023

Cruise Tourism Development, A Tangled Mess

Tonight, we’ll take a closer look at the state of cruise tourism development in Belize.  Three companies, including Stake Bank, Portico Enterprise and Waterloo Holdings, are in legal disputes with the Government of Belize regarding the construction of additional cruise ports in the Belize District harbor.  It’s a complicated and bitter affair for all parties involved and in the following special report, News Five’s Isani Cayetano sheds light on what’s taking place in that hotly contested space.  Here’s that story.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

When ground was broken in February 2019, for a new cruise terminal to be built two miles off the coast of Belize City, the tourism development project known as Port Coral had a specific timeline.  A docking facility to accommodate the world’s largest cruise ships would be constructed on Stake Bank by 2024.


Michael Feinstein

Michael Feinstein, Chairman, Feinstein Group (File: February 21st, 2019)

“The Atlantic Bank is the lead organizer for the money for this project which is sixty-seven million dollars on the island and a total of about eighty-two million dollars before this project is done.”


That was a little over four years ago.  Since then, work on building a first-rate facility on the island has taken place and millions of dollars have been invested in the project.  Despite the significant progress that has been made, it’s still a long way from completion.  It is not likely that Port Coral will be ready to meet the target set by its principals.  Aside from an apparent delay in the work schedule; Stake Bank Enterprise which owns Port Coral, is also before the court.   The Feinstein Group is fighting for exclusivity in developing a cruise port in the Belize District harbor.  The company has brought a lawsuit against the Attorney General, as well as the National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC) and the Department of the Environment.  In those proceedings, Portico and Waterloo have joined as interested parties.


Godfrey Smith

Godfrey Smith, Attorney-at-law (File: December 20th, 2021)

“The applicant, Waterloo, and their associated companies, were aware of this case for some time but were not being sued, were not named as a party and thought that the matter was entirely one between Stake Bank, the DOE, NEAC, and, as you said, Port Magical.  However, it came to their attention at a fairly late juncture that if Stake Bank succeeded with the claim, the nature of the orders given would affect them as well as therefore, because of that, they said well… we stand to be affected by this if Stake Bank succeeds which would mean that after we get EIA approval or if we get EIA approval, they could bring similar proceedings as they’ve brought against Port Magical and say that we’re not entitled to proceed because either they have an exclusive right or they weren’t consulted.”


On June fifth, Senior Counsel Glenn Godfrey, on behalf of Stake Bank Enterprise, wrote to the Attorney General under Section 3 of the Public Authorities Act.  That letter goes on to read, quote, We wish to remind the GOB that such actions are in clear violation of the unambiguous and unequivocal promise and assurance given by them to our client under the Stake Bank Definitive Agreement.  Further, it is our client’s belief that by comparison the proposed fiscal incentives as stated in the Port of Magical Belize Definitive Agreement, if accepted, amounts to preferential treatment, end quote.


Kevin Bernard

Kevin Bernard, Cabinet Minister

“The Prime Minister and Cabinet all met and when that Definitive Agreement was brought To Cabinet, the Prime Minister made it absolutely clear that the Definitive Agreement must go back for review and there will be no less or no more added to what Harvest Caye, or Stake Bank or any other Definitive Agreement out there.”


A recent trip to Stake Bank brings to light a number of observations, including the fact that many of the structures are unfinished.  Piles align the southern flank of the island; a dock, however, is yet to be erected.  Not far from those jutting columns is a partially submerged vessel.  News Five understands that a team of engineers from Panama last reported to work there in April.  What should have been a construction site teeming with activity is little more than a handful of laborers wandering about the island.  It’s unclear whether funds for the project have dried up, but work has seemingly ground to a halt.  The biggest challenge for Port Coral is getting visitors from Stake Bank to the mainland.  No causeway has been approved and tendering is the only other means of transporting tourists to Belize City.


Michelle Paige

Michelle Paige, President, Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (File: March 1st, 2022)

“What excites us is that the ships that are being built today are bigger.  We are not able to tender passengers from the bigger ships.  So that’s number one.  Having a tender port is not an option with the bigger ships, we have to be able to berth.  In addition, right here and now, when we tender passengers in, the crew are not able to get off because we don’t have enough time.  So just looking at the opportunity that a facility of that magnitude offers to Belize in terms of what the economic impact is: number one, the ships are about forty percent bigger, so you get forty percent more passengers.  In addition, for every passenger there is a half a crew member.  So if it’s a six thousand passenger ship, we’re talking about three thousand crew members that are able to come and spend money.”


Port Coral is roughly eleven miles from Port of Magical Belize, a fifteen-minute boat ride from the mouth of the Sibun River.  It promises all the necessary features for larger cruise ships to berth without having to tender passengers to the mainland.  The Definitive Agreement granted by government in October 2020 stipulates that no third party competing with the developer shall, within a twenty-five mile radius, be given any tax benefits or duty concessions for a period of twenty-five years from the commencement date.  Lord Michael Ashcroft is the principal for Waterloo Holdings.  The company’s plans for expanding the Port of Belize and building a cruise terminal in Port Loyola have been rejected.  That situation is headed to litigation.  Nonetheless, Ashcroft contends that Royal Caribbean which entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Portico a few weeks ago, ought to have known that the terms and conditions of the Definitive Agreement do not exist in any other country.


Michael Ashcroft

Lord Michael Ashcroft, Belizean Investor

“Royal Caribbean either knew or should have known that this contract was something that they had never seen in any other jurisdiction, but yet, questions weren’t asked.  So a lot to pay for.  This could be sorted out very quickly, but with all the vested interests, it’s probably going to go on for some time.”


The letter from GDG, also in reference to Portico’s Definitive Agreement, makes an urgent undertaking, on or before June eighth, today, that the Government of Belize declares that, quote, the Port of Magical Belize Definitive Agreement is in fact null and void and will refrain from taking any steps to pass and/or enact any primary and/or subsidiary legislation in furtherance of the Port of Magical Belize’s Definitive Agreement.


Kevin Bernard

“As Minister of Health, I sit in Cabinet.  I have heard a lot of issues being said that ministers were… that is not true.  The discussion came to Cabinet, it was ventilated and it was sent back for review, for revision so that they can come back with a proper definitive agreement.  The UDP Definitive Agreement, I must say, is bad for Belize.”


Prime Minister John Briceño is presently out of the country.  In responding to News Five earlier today, he said, quote, Cabinet has asked both Anthony [Mahler] and Chris [Coye] to meet the developers and work out an agreement that’s more reasonable to both sides, end quote.


But there are still numerous concerns regarding the Port of Magical Belize, particularly the environmental risks involved.  The location of the project sits on pristine coastal mangrove forests and a terrestrial survey accompanying its environmental impact assessment indicates extremely high biodiversity.  The coral reef spans the length of the shoreline and, for the purpose of the Port Magical project, is within its zone of influence.  There’s also a maximum dredge volume of 8.5 million cubic meters, one million cubic meters more than what the Port of Belize is expecting.  The concern is that the greater the quantity of material being dredged, the greater the likelihood of environmental impact.  All of this would be taking place within an ecologically sensitive habitat, an area where manatees are present.


So what environmental considerations, if any, were given to this project?



“Can the south handle that port?”


Orlando Habet

Orlando Habet, Minister of Sustainable Development

 “I think that all the ports, we have to look at them very carefully and I have always been one that, even on the media and any show, I would say that we have to look at the capacity that we have for the amount of cruise passengers that we have.  I have always said that if the tourism industry is telling us for years that one type of tourism is better than the other, then we should promote the other more than one.  So if overnight tourism is better than cruise tourism then that’s the way that we should go.  But it is something that we have to plan, it can’t be a five-year plan.  It can’t be a government of the day plan, it has to be a long-term plan.”


Isani Cayetano for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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