PORTLAND, Maine — The city of Portland is attempting to establish itself as a site where large cruise ships not only visit, but also load provisions and even use as a homeport, which are steps that could amplify the ships’ local economic impacts tenfold, a top longshoremen’s union official said.
On Tuesday, the Boston-based cruise ship Carnival Glory provided Portland its first trial run of loading provisions. Bob Leeman, the city’s director of port operations, said dock workers unloaded 15 trucks of food, toiletries and other supplies — adding up to about 320 pallets — and loaded it all onto the ship at the former Maine State Pier.
City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said with the successful loading operation, city officials can pitch the service to other cruise ship companies as well. If the city can establish itself as a supply loading site, she said, it would be the first step toward convincing the massive cruise ships to load up with locally produced provisions, and even use Maine’s largest city as a homeport.
Homeport or “turnaround” designations would mean longshoremen would not only get work loading on pallets of goods, but thousands of bags and suitcases of luggage as well, as passengers would be starting and ending their journeys in Portland instead of just visiting here along the way.
Currently, cruise ships use Portland as a simple port of call, in which they just pull into the harbor and let passengers off to tour the city. The Carnival Glory brought nearly 3,000 passengers to Portland, and is the first large cruise ship to call on the city this year. It is one of 59 ships expected to bring nearly 70,000 passengers to visit Portland in 2012.
An oft-referenced University of Maine study reported that in 2008, 31 cruise ships generated between $5.8 million and $8 million in impact to the local economy, creating between 69 and 96 full- and part-time jobs.
But Jack Humeniuk, business agent for Local 861 of the International Longshoremen’s Association, said a homeport or turnaround title would add significantly to that impact. He said passengers and workers would come more regularly, and many would fly into the Portland International Jetport and stay in local hotels in advance of their cruise departures.
“If Portland was to attract a medium or major cruise ship, that would be huge business,” Humeniuk said. “It would just be so much more economic value, maybe 10 times or 20 times what you’d get from what we’d call a ‘port of call.’ It really is good, good business for the area. It hits hotels, it hits shops, it hits the airport, it hits restaurants.”
Humeniuk said 23 ILA members worked on Tuesday’s provision loading, and adding turnaround or homeport duties to the workload likely would have caused him to call in Local 861’s entire roster of 46 workers — and perhaps even hire more people.
“This is a chance for us to get into the cruise ship industry on the operational side,” Clegg said.
Leeman said that although city officials have been talking to cruise lines about getting an opportunity to load and unload ships, the city’s chance to prove its mettle on Tuesday came about in part by chance.
“The storm system that just came through made it so [the ship would get] into Boston late at night, and they didn’t have enough time to load it up in Boston,” Leeman said.
“Today we employed 23 people all day long working on provisioning, and it went very, very well, and it saved [the cruise line] a substantial amount of money,” Humeniuk said. “We thought it was very encouraging. We had to do in four hours what you’d normally do in eight hours, but with cooperation from the city personnel and Ready Seafood Co. — and our group with Ports America — we actually did it in less than four hours.”
That’s the message Leeman said he’ll bring to a cruise line symposium in Quebec next week, at which he will have an opportunity to speak personally with representatives of nearly all of the major cruise lines.
“We’re encouraged,” Clegg said. “Our goal was to make a great first impression, and I think we did that.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously referred to the cruise ship as the Celebrity Glory. It is the Carnival Glory.