Cruise ship visit to City officials say law protecting right whales reason for cancellation

Posted March 06, 2009, at 11:44 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Due to new federal regulations intended to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales by making large ships slow down, the 1,950-passenger Grandeur of the Seas evidently has scratched Rockland from its June port-of-call list.

“It is disappointing,” said City Manager Rosemary Kulow on Friday.

Another 2,100-passenger ship from the same Royal Caribbean line is still intending to stop in Rockland in October, said the director of the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re just working actively towards rolling out the red carpet for the October visit,” said Shari Closter, the Chamber’s interim director.

Nevertheless, the loss of a cruise ship means the loss of revenue in local shops and restaurants. While Rockland has hosted many smaller cruise ships, Grandeur of the Seas was the first-ever scheduled visit by a larger vessel. Ship passengers likely would have spent thousands of dollars in the region, according to economic models.

A 2002 University of Maine study found that cruise ship passengers spend an average of $105.82 each at their Bar Harbor stop. If the numbers held true in Rockland, that would mean more than $200,000 pumped into the local economy during the Grandeur of the Seas’ stop.

Rockland officials said they were notified late last week of the change to the Royal Caribbean cruise ship’s schedule by company officials, although as of Friday evening, Rockland was still listed on Royal Caribbean’s Web site as a scheduled stop for June 21.

The company did not return calls Friday to verify the scheduling change.

Rockland would have been the first stop on a cruise which was planned to embark from Baltimore and travel around Cape Cod via the Great South Channel. According to charts provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the area, which extends more than 100 miles east of Boston and Cape Cod, will have mandatory speed restrictions imposed from April 1 through July 31. Ships will have to travel at just 10 knots in areas where the whales feed and reproduce, as well as along migratory routes in between, according to NOAA.

The goal of the regulation is to reduce the risk of ship collisions with the whales, according to a press release from the agency.

“The ship strike rule, based on science, is a major addition to NOAA’s arsenal of protections for this endangered species,” said Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., NOAA administrator, in the press release.

There are only 300 to 400 North Atlantic right whales in existence. They move slowly and so are “highly vulnerable” to ship collisions, especially since their migration route crosses major East Coast shipping lanes, according to NOAA.

Greg Gordon of Intercruises, a company that arranges shore excursions for cruise ships, said that Rockland has been working for years to get the larger cruise ships to put their city on the schedule.

“Unfortunately, they had to cancel due to the right whale issue,” he said. “People are definitely disappointed.”

Closter and Frank Isganitis, the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce’s cruise committee, are focusing on the October visit by the Jewel of the Seas rather than fixating on the one that got away.

“Rockland has been one of the most active ports in the state for 150 years,” Isganitis said. “I don’t think a missed port of call is going to make or break the season. And from a reality perspective, it gives us four more months to plan.”

acurtis@bangordailynews.net

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