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Valparaíso cruise calls at risk on berthing, labor issues

Valparaíso's new $9m passenger terminal opened last October Valparaíso's new $9m passenger terminal opened last October (Photo: Daniel Vergara Photography)

Chile's Valparaíso—where a spacious new $9m passenger terminal opened last season—is losing at least seven cruise calls and may be at risk for more due to berthing conflicts and threatened labor disruptions.

Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises will shift a total of seven calls to San Antonio's Puerto Central, a new multipurpose facility about 99 kilometers/62 miles south of Valparaíso. A spokesman for the two lines cited 'berthing conflicts and limited pierside services.'

The impacted calls, on Oceania's Sirena and Marina, and RSSC's Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Explorer, stretch from this November to March 2019. All but two are transit calls.

According to Esteban Bilbao, general manager of the Valparaíso Passenger Terminal, TPS Von Appen Group, the concessionaire of one of Valparaíso's most important berths, is not giving cruise ships priority over cargo vessels and is confirming berthing just three months in advance.

This is unacceptable to the cruise lines, Bilbao said, which typically plan itineraries two years ahead.

The issue is further aggravated by a labor dispute with the EPV (Port Company of Valparaíso). The port workers are 'taking the cruise industry hostage,' Bilbao said, by threatening to block operations if a settlement isn't reached.

'This is a serious situation that clearly generates an atmosphere of instability for the cruise lines,' Bilbao told Seatrade Cruise News.

'Unfortunately, our effort to deliver a new world-class terminal for guest services, in which we deliver high quality service, is seriously affected by the attitude of the concessionaire of the berths and the demonstrations of the port workers.'

A Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association delegation visited Chile two weeks ago to talk with all parties, including the government, ports, concessionaires and agents.

'Even though we have an agreement [about cruise berthing], they haven't been honoring it,' FCCA president Michele Paige said, adding that all FCCA member lines have had operational concerns.

'We're looking at options,' Paige said. 'We want to work it out.'

According to local news reports, six cruise calls were delayed, disrupted or blocked last season—Crystal Serenity on Feb. 4, Crown Princess and Costa Luminosa on Feb. 15, Queen Victoria on Feb. 16 and Norwegian Sun on March 9 and April 25.

Crystal Serenity's call was impacted, confirmed Claudius Docekal, vp deployment, Crystal Cruises. Puerto Central, in his view, lacks the amenities to suit Crystal's needs, 'but, in a pinch, it would have to work,' he said. 'Our hope is that all challenges [at Valparaíso] can be resolved.'

Valparaíso has worked hard to improve its visitor services, making great progress, and stands to lose the economic impact of cruise calls. Moreover, the current situation could undo years of outreach on Chile's part to improve cruise industry relations.

Meanwhile, San Antonio's Puerto Central, which handled Norwegian Sun's diverted April 25 call, is happy to have cruise ships head its way. The new multipurpose terminal offers world-class technology and a professional workforce, according to media reports citing gm Rodrigo Olea, who said investments are planned to improve San Antonio's visitor services.

Valparaíso and San Antonio are equidistant from Santiago, the capital, and Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport, both about a 1.5-hour drive away.

But Bilbao holds out hope the Valparaíso situation will be resolved.

He believes efforts by EPV and TCVAL of the OHL Group will find a solution for cruise ship berthing so more calls aren't lost. Bilbao added that Valparaíso, whose historic quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an enticing destination, while San Antonio, he added, is smaller and doesn't have as many attractions.

Posted 12 July 2017

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Anne Kalosh

US editor of Seatrade Cruise Review and Seatrade Cruise News

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