Port of Vancouver studying feasibility of new Fraser River cruise ship terminal

Aug 26 2019, 8:51 am

The Port of Vancouver expects that it will engage the public in 2020 with details on the feasibility of building a secondary cruise ship terminal at the mouth of the Fraser River.

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In 2017, the port authority went public with the possible idea and need, and ever since it has been looking at its options beyond the Canada Place terminal in downtown Vancouver. The locations being explored are in Richmond and Delta.

“We are in discussions with a number of key stakeholders to determine the feasibility of a site on the Fraser River. It’s still early in the process and expect more details in the new year,” Carmen Ortega, manager of trade development at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, told Daily Hive.

A larger cruise ship squeezing under the Lions Gate Bridge. (Dillan K / Flickr)

The issue with Canada Place is not necessarily berthing capacity, but rather the limitation on ship heights travelling under the Lions Gate Bridge to reach the downtown terminal.

Ships currently have a clearance of 200 ft under the mid-point of the bridge deck, but that is insufficient for new and larger cruise ships that are increasingly being launched.

Cruise ships are becoming larger to increase their operational economies of scale in an effort to reduce costs and increase profits.

Moreover, cruise ships are now larger to meet the booming demand in the global cruise industry, with over 100 newly-built cruise ships scheduled to come online over the coming years, including 24 new ships making their debut in 2019.

Nearly 30 million passengers are expected to cruise in 2019, up from about 18 million a decade earlier.

For the Port of Vancouver, it expects to see a record 1.1 million cruise passengers on 290 ship calls in 2019 — approximately 20% more than the previous year.

Canada Place Vancouver cruise ship

The Celebrity Eclipse leaving the Canada Place cruise ship terminal in downtown Vancouver. (Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive)

Without the ability to accommodate taller ships, Vancouver could lose more of its cruise industry business to Seattle, which had a non-existent industry just two decades ago.

But for some years now, Seattle has been attracting more passengers than Vancouver, and without any physical impediments they have successfully lured new larger, taller vessels, such as two of the world’s largest ships — the Norwegian Bliss and the Norwegian Joy. Both vessels can only squeeze under the Lions Gate Bridge during low tide.

Competition with Seattle is about to get even more fierce, as a fourth additional berth for cruise ships near downtown Seattle will reach completion in time for the start of the 2022 cruise season.

“We are working collaboratively with our industry, destination, and government partners to anticipate, plan for and accommodate future demand for various cruise ships that will visit Vancouver,” continued Ortega.

Some improvements have been made to Canada Place over the years to increase its ability to process more passengers, specifically the revamped drop-off and pick-up areas, and the ability to use one of the exhibition halls of the Vancouver Convention Centre — above the cruise ship terminal — as a spillover check-in area.

“Our main focus continues to be on optimizing the world-class facility we have at Canada Place and we’ve made a number of enhancements and investments in this facility to improve the passenger experience,” she added.

Up until 2014, the port authority utilized Ballantyne Pier on the east side of the Centerm terminal for cruise ships. As cruise ship operations at Ballantyne amounted to less than 4% of Vancouver’s total cruise ship traffic, a decision was made to consolidate the operations at Canada Place.

Norwegian Bliss Vancouver Canada Place

The Norwegian Bliss arriving at Canada Place in Vancouver during the early morning hours of September 30, 2018. (Mark Musni)

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