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Bahrain halves port fees in an effort to lure back leery cruise lines

Jul 15, 2012 12:36 am

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The Bahrain government is doing what it can to help offset the hefty insurance cost for ships calling on its main port. The fee break, while not able to offset the insurance, tells the industry that Bahrain feels its pain and wants to help.

— Jason Clampet

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Bahrain will halve port fees for cruise ships in a bid to lure back operators when the new season opens in October, sources told the GDN.

It was part of a raft of incentives agreed during a meeting in which tourism and maritime authorities pulled together to offset an increase in the cost of insuring vessels that dock here.

Tourism companies are offering discounts worth tens of thousands of dinars, while APM Terminals Bahrain which manages the Khalifa Bin Salman Port has reduced its charges for passengers from BD3 to BD2 each.

Meanwhile, passenger charges could be waived by the General Directorate of Nationality, Passports and Residence Affairs (GDNPR), which could act as a “sponsor” for each visitor arriving on a cruise.

The organisation will also continue to waive crew charges and will look into the potential of waiving other charges, added sources. In addition, they said shipping or port agents who handle cruise liners coming to Bahrain have pledged to slash their prices of up to BD700 by 25pc.

The measures were agreed on Tuesday in response to reports that insurance companies could charge operators an additional $15,000 (BD5,675) for each cruise ship that berths here — a move that threatened to derail hopes of a recovery in Bahrain’s tourism sector, which has seen revenues plummet as a result of unrest last year.

One official said the decisions, coupled with other steps being taken by the Culture Ministry, would ensure Bahrain remained an attractive destination for cruise companies and passengers.

“We are all working together to ensure Bahrain is back on the global cruise calendar,” they said.

“The role the Culture Ministry is playing is extraordinary. We have to get the cruise tourists into Bahrain after the season was abruptly suspended last time. The ministry is pulling out all stops to ensure all goes well.”

Tuesday’s meeting was presided over by General Organisation of Seaports (GOP) director-general Hassan Al Majed.

APM Terminals chief executive officer Marco Neelsen confirmed it was reducing fees from BD3 to BD2 per passenger, saying this alone would reduce operator costs by at least BD2,000 per call.

“It was very important to do this,” he said. “We are sure this decision will serve to make the Bahrain call extremely competitive for cruise liners and offset in part the high premium charged by insurance companies for ships coming to Bahrain.”

Mathias Tourism managing director Richard Mathias said he was “very proud” of the tourism sector and the government for the proactive approach.

“They have ensured that the coming cruise season is successful,” he said.

“It is also very heartwarming to note that all stakeholders met with GOP to make Bahrain a preferred cruise destination.”

He said regular meetings would ensure that Bahrain continued to attract foreign cruise operators and described the new measures as a collective effort.

“Everyone is chipping in to make sure the season is a success,” he added.

“Our company has pledged to give a total discount of $50,000 (BD18,900) over the season and I am sure others are planning to or have pledged the same.”

Alsharif Group shipping manager Hassan Alsharif said his company, which is a port agent, had also agreed to reduce its charges for cruise ships.

“This is very important that we all work together to ensure the cruise business returns to Bahrain and we will do our bit to make that happen,” he said.

The GDN earlier reported that increased insurance charges for docking in Bahrain could result in each cruise operator paying an additional $300,000 (BD113,129) over the course of a season.

However, Bahrain is keen to woo back cruise tourism after operators cancelled stops here following the outbreak of unrest in February last year.

Only 29 of the scheduled 50 port calls by various liners were made to Bahrain in the 2010-2011 season, which was abruptly suspended because of unrest — resulting in a loss of nearly 50,000 tourists.

German cruise company Aida was the only operator to schedule stops in Bahrain during the last season, but it made only seven out of 13 planned visits — citing massive insurance premiums as the reason for cancelling port calls.

Tour operators said cruise ship passengers previously spent $5 million (BD1.9m) in tourist spending alone.

According to estimates, each cruise ship tourist spends at least $125 (BD47) during visits to Bahrain, which brings in around $300,000 (BD113,400) to the economy.

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