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Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Joy in Alaska this season PHOTO: Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line reported in project for new dock near Ketchikan

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is said to be partnering with two Alaska businesses on a private dock just north of Ketchikan that could accommodate two mega-ships.

Ward Cove, site of a former pulp mill

The faciilty would be at Ward Cove, the site of the former Ketchikan Pulp Co.

NCLH is partnering with Ketchikan-based Ward Cove Group and Godspeed Inc. of Fairbanks, a tour business owned by the Binkley family, according to Ketchikan radio station KRBD.

Ward Cove Group project spokesman Trevor Shaw told KRBD the $50m first phase would include the dock, a passenger terminal and welcome center, all for completion by 2020 — a schedule he admitted is ambitious. Later phases could tie in the history of the pulp mill, a major employer before shutting down in 1997.

NCLH ships would have priority berthing.

Tuesday night, an NCLH spokesperson told Seatrade Cruise News she was not immediately able to comment about the Ward Cove project.

Costly Ketchikan berth expansion

Ketchikan has been studying how to pay for a cruise dock expansion estimated to cost a whopping $150m. The city has four cruise berths but can handle just one megaship at a time.

It is expected Ketchikan will need to proceed but may have to modify its plan.

NCLH investment at Icy Strait

NCLH, which is now sending its biggest, newest vessels to Alaska, is already partnering with Alaska Native-owned Huna Totem Corp. to develop a second cruise pier in Icy Strait Point at Hoonah. That pier is designed to handle Breakaway Plus ships like Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Joy, which are both operating in Alaska this summer and next.

Its completion is scheduled for the 2020 season.

Alaska market growth

The Alaska market has been growing with brands like Princess CruisesRoyal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises also sending bigger ships.

In 2018, Norwegian Cruise Line's three-ship program managed a 25% price hike despite a 50% capacity increase with Norwegian Bliss. The market is getting more crowded. But as Frank Del Rio, president and CEO, NCLH has said, he thinks Alaska is 'under-supplied.' During the company's November 2018 earnings call, Del Rio told analysts: 'There is great demand. It's safe. Americans want to visit. There is much more opportunity to grow.'

On that call, he also said NCLH was looking to make strategic infrastructure investments in Alaska to ensure it has favorable docking arrangements. News of the Icy Strait project quickly followed.

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