Virgin Voyages cruise line touts its inaugural Scarlet Lady cruise ship as one of the most environmentally advanced cruise ships in the industry. Proposed changes to the city’s charter would prohibit ships of its size and capacity in Key West. VIRGIN VOYAGES/Contributed
By John Wells

The Key West Citizen’s June 13th editorial declaring the proposed cruise ship referendums to be “genuine compromise” is misleading to Key West voters. It is difficult to know why the editor chose to simply replicate the dogma offered by Cleaner Safer Ships, rather than present a balanced review of the issue.

The cruise ship referenda are neither a compromise nor smart.

The referenda, if passed, will result in a 95% decrease in cruise ship visits to Key West, based on actual ship reservations through December 2021. 

Where I come from (Key West), a compromise solution usually rests somewhere near the middle. The Citizen editor neglected to research the real numbers. Cruise tourism opponents do not want a reasonable compromise – they know their referenda mean the complete demise of cruise tourism in Key West.

The editorial subtly misrepresented a referendum’s criteria for the size of ships. That referendum wants no ship with more than 1,300 “persons” on board to visit Key West. “Persons” means passengers plus crew, who also come ashore and spend their dollars. The editor inaccurately applied the size criteria as “1,300 passengers.” The subtle difference would exclude even more ships. 

The Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships tries to deflect the fact that the referenda will result in the destruction of cruise tourism by touting the availability of smaller ships they say will call on Key West in greater numbers. They will not.

As ships’ agents, we speak with cruise line executives and itinerary planners nearly every week. The smaller “boutique,” or exploration ships typically engage in long duration voyages. They do not trade in the short weekly cruises that are attractive to most tourists. They will continue to occasionally visit Key West, if we retain any port infrastructure at all, but there will never be the numbers CSS projects.

That is a fact based on actual conversations with the cruise lines and their scheduled port calls.

The most conspicuous example of editorial inaccuracy is the false premise that the City only realized a net revenue gain of $91,000 from cruise ship visits in 2018. If you read the 2018 financial report, you will see that the City dedicated $1,753,553 of cruise ship revenues to support essential City services that year. Specifically, passenger and dockage fees added to the budgets of the Police Department ($974,680), Fire Department ($550,046), Emergency Medical Services ($135,354) and “Other Departments” ($93,472). This boon to the Key West City budget surpassed $2 million in 2019.

Those numbers represent a substantial support of City services for the citizens of Key West by direct cruise ship fees. Failure to report those numbers is deliberate dishonesty by the anti-cruise ship bunch. Failure to fact-check the dishonesty is a disappointing omission. 

The referenda will result in an overwhelming cut of cruise tourism, which means higher taxes, reductions in essential city services, or both. The City manager is already planning for that contingency.

The Citizen preaches that long-established businesses need to “change their model or market themselves differently” to adjust to the expulsion of cruise tourists. Unless you have invested your financial and personal capital into devising, planning and nurturing a business to success, patronizing advice about how to manage a business is not useful.

However, I do commend the editorial for avoiding the error of echoing the anti-cruise ship group’s hysterical disinformation program regarding environmental impacts of cruise ships on Keys waters.

Ironically, the referenda would exclude the newest, most advanced ships with state-of-the-art

environmental systems. 

There has never been an incident of spill or discharge of prohibited substances into Keys waters in all the decades of cruise traffic. The outcry about siltation or turbidity is a false flag. A strong winter nor’wester turns the harbor almost white with silt blown off the flats to the west. 

When the Navy had to repair the pilings at their cruise dock, live brain corals had to be removed and transplanted. They flourished immediately alongside the cruise ships. Cruise ships in Key West do not harm corals and there is no study that says they do.

Editorials are statements of opinion and all of us are entitled to our opinions on this important issue.

However, the community will be better served if journalists do not taint the debate by parroting

deliberate distortions from one side, while ignoring the other.

Ships’ Agent, Ret.

Key West(John Wells is the 1982 founder and recently retired CEO of Caribe Nautical Services, Inc., Port Agents for all cruise lines that call in Key West. Though retired from operations, he remains chairman of the board of directors.)

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