Port Royal: Kingston’s new cruise gateway

The Port Authority of Jamaica’s project to open a new cruise terminal has helped drive growth

Port Royal: Kingston’s new cruise gateway
A Disney Cruise Lines ship docked at Port Royal’s Historic Naval Dockyard

By Tovia Elliott |

Once hailed as the “richest and wickedest city in the world”, Port Royal in Kingston, Jamaica was one of the economic centres of the New World for over two centuries. It was also the British Empire’s largest naval base in the Caribbean before its decline into a quiet fishing village in the 20th century. However, the town’s fortune changed after an impromptu cruise ship call in Kingston in 2016 prompted the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) to embark on a project to bring cruising and tourists back to Port Royal. Leveraging the town’s historical, environmental and social assets, the PAJ developed its newest and most innovative terminal, the Historic Naval Dockyard in Port Royal.  

Previous concerns regarding cruise shipping in Port Royal centred around the environmental and social impacts of developing infrastructure for visiting vessels. Consequently, the PAJ decided to find a technology that would enable it to create a cruise terminal at a previous port facility in Port Royal that had already received local heritage and environmental regulatory approval. The company chose the SeaWalk solution, which is successfully used in environmentally sensitive areas with cultural and historical significance, such as the Unesco-protected Geirangerfjord in Norway.  

The SeaWalk is a self-propelled, floating articulated pier comprising three bridges on 10 floating pontoons and a hinged landing section, and it operates similar to an airport jet bridge. SeaWalk is hinged by steel anchor piles installed in the footprint of the previous berthing infrastructure at Old Coal Wharf and uses limited pile-driven works compared to conventional berthing systems with numerous stationary concrete piles. Additionally, the natural deepwater depths at the Old Coal Wharf mean there is no need for dredging in Port Royal. 

In line with other port developments, the PAJ sought township investments to support the revitalisation of Port Royal’s historic and cultural assets, as well as to tackle infrastructural deficiencies including unpaved streets, poor sewage and dilapidated building structures.  

Investments encompassed various upgrades at the historic Fort Charles, including the restoration of the foot banks and installation of replica guns from the Victoria Battery. Now, guests can take guided tours of the fort and hear stories about renowned characters – such as 17th-century privateer and Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica Sir Henry Morgan – bringing Port Royal’s rich history to life. In future, there are plans to further highlight Port Royal’s environmental and cultural diversity via a museum, ecotours and more. 

The PAJ also engaged with multiple stakeholders, including government ministries, departments and agencies, academia, various social entities and the local communities, to identify other areas for investments with significant socio-economic opportunities. Some of these investments included the construction of a new promenade linking the cruise terminal to the town, as well as a modern tertiary sewage plant to serve both the town and the terminal to ease long-standing concerns regarding untreated sewage. Design elements were altered to reduce or offset the impact of construction. The cruise terminal footprint was modified to ensure that the mature red mangroves located to the east of the terminal remain untouched. Meanwhile, the terminal’s storm water drainage system was designed to ensure storm water is retained on site in the gravel fill and not released to the marine environment. 

The PAJ also undertook social projects, such as the restoration of the dilapidated and unsafe Old Port Royal Ferry Pier, which is used by the Port Royal fishing community. The PAJ reconstructed the wooden pier using the existing pier footprint and repurposed the hoarding used on the construction site as perimeter fencing for the town’s primary and infant school. The basketball court and the school’s IT laboratory were also refurbished.  

In addition, several Port Royal residents received tour guide training as part of the Team Jamaica programme, with areas covered including tourism awareness, history, group control management, customer service, communication skills and personal development. Storytellers were trained by a renowned local orator. Participant feedback underscored their appreciation of the potential for economic growth opportunities in Port Royal, as well as the personal and professional development enabled by the training. 

Given the importance of the Port Royal area, a multi-stakeholder collaborative effort has been undertaken to ensure the success of Port Royal cruise development project. The legacy of this undertaking will undoubtedly be its endeavour to drive social and economic growth while minimising environmental risk and accounting for stakeholder challenges and needs. The Port Royal Cruise project has surpassed expectations and will undoubtedly further contribute positively to economic growth and sustainable development via greater inclusion, job creation, capacity building and innovation with cultural heritage.  

Tovia Elliott is environmental programmes coordinator at Port Authority of Jamaica

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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