$6M pier for cruise ships opens in Portland

Posted Sept. 14, 2011, at 5:22 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 14, 2011, at 4:36 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A new pier that can accommodate the world’s largest cruise ships will allow the port of Portland to grow the number of ships that visit each year, city officials said Wednesday.

The 1,200-foot Ocean Gateway Pier II will enable two large cruise ships to berth in the harbor at the same time, making the city more competitive in attracting cruise ships, Mayor Nicholas Mavodones said as he stood on the structure beside the 960-foot Celebrity Summit. It is the largest ship’s berth in Maine.

“For us it means we can have twice the number of ships and twice the number of passengers and crew wandering about our streets,” he said. “It’s huge for our downtown and Old Port because some businesses hire more people when cruise ships are in town. So they’re creating jobs in late summer and fall.”

The new berth has been discussed for more than a decade and was built at a cost of about $6 million, funded by a state transportation bond. It is part of the city’s long-term strategy to build up the cruise ship business.

The city didn’t have any cruise ships come to port until the early 1990s, when a handful of ships started coming each year. But in recent years, Portland, New England and eastern Canada have been growing in popularity among cruise lines.

Sixty-five ships carrying a record 92,000 passengers are scheduled to call on Portland this year, with late summer and early fall being the busiest time of year.

The ships have been using the nearby Maine State Pier for years. But the new pier is longer and has deeper waters around it, meaning it can accommodate even the so-called “mega-ships,” giving rise to Pier II sometimes being called the “mega-berth.”

The new pier opened for business on Saturday, when the Enchantment of the Seas visited port.

Later this month the city for the first time will have two large cruise ships berthed in port simultaneously, something that couldn’t be done before the new pier opened, city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said.

The city eventually hopes to close the gap on Bar Harbor, which is due to get 115 cruise ship visits this year.

“We’re using Bar Harbor as a guide to the number of cruise ships,” Clegg said. “They get almost double the number of cruise ships we have.”

The new berth can accommodate the world’s biggest cruise ships, she said, including the Oasis of the Seas, which is billed as the world’s largest such ship. The Oasis of the Seas, which was launched two years ago, rises about 20 stories high and is five times larger than the Titanic.

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