Joy, caution as Ocho Rios welcomes ‘Carnival Sunshine’
Despite concerns about the pandemic and the state of readiness for a resumption of cruise-ship calls in Ocho Rios, St Ann, several industry players are delighted that today, a vessel will grace their shores after a 17-month absence.
The Carnival Sunshine, with a capacity of just over 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew, is expected to dock in the town at 10 a.m. today to signal a new era in the island’s cruise- shipping industry.
However, there are fears that the return of what was once considered the incubator of the disease may help to drive up infection rates locally if not carefully managed, given the hesitancy among the populace – including some who work in the tourism industry – to take the COVID-19 vaccine despite the insistence of officials that vaccination is a must if the industry is to be revived.
Ocho Rios businessman Kuman Sujanani, operator of a leading in-bond store, Gem Palace, told The Gleaner that his joy is tempered with caution.
“I am absolutely overjoyed and very happy to welcome back cruise shipping to the town of Ocho Rios and the country of Jamaica and hope that Falmouth will follow suit very quickly,” Sujanani said. “But, of course, I’m very concerned about the COVID-19.”
Sujanani added: “My understanding is that over 98 per cent – maybe 100 per cent – of the passengers have been fully vaccinated and the crew is fully vaccinated.”
His sentiments were echoed by another businessman, Manley Bowen, operator of Ocean’s 11.
“It’s a welcome thought. Of course, it comes with quite a bit of caution as well because one has no idea what this will mean in terms of the virus itself,” Bowen pointed out.
“I mean, people [are] coming from all over, and, basically, cruise ship was the incubator, basically, for it in the initial stages, but it is welcomed by all means, but I think one has to approach it with a lot of caution and a lot of care to ensure that we don’t blow the lid off this thing again although as far as I am concerned, the Jamaican situation is already quite tenuous,” he added.
Ocho Rios resident Claudile Sydial expressed concern about the protocols..
She said: “ ... Our visitors from the north, because it’s not mandatory for them to be in masks, are we going to be telling them that definitely they must have on their masks? Or are we not going to force them because we want the business? That is a real fear that I have.”
Fenton Coombs, a craft trader located in Fern Gully, is overjoyed at the return of cruise ships, adding that he and his colleagues were “dying for the cruise ship dem come out back again so we can go back to work again”.
Another concern is the readiness of Ocho Rios to accept a cruise ship for the first time in a year and a half.
“Put it this way: Ocho Rios has been yearning for cruise ships. Whether we’re ready or not is another matter because the reality is, it was just Wednesday that we were advised that a ship is coming on Monday,” Bowen said. “A lot of people – including the Port Authority, who is down there hurriedly trying to fix that walkway, which should have been fixed months ago – were caught off guard, which I find very, very interesting,” he added.
“I think they’re more than prepared,” Sujanani said, in offering a different outlook, adding that he was hoping that the necessary plans were in place to have a seamless operation.