The younger, more modern and larger MSC Opera, which will make Durban its South African homeport for the 2012/2013 cruise season, replacing the MSC Sinfornia.
The younger, more modern and larger MSC Opera, which will make Durban its South African homeport for the 2012/2013 cruise season, replacing the MSC Sinfornia.

Pressure builds for new cruise terminal

By Suren Naidoo and Terry Hutson Time of article published Feb 22, 2012

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Italian cruise line MSC Cruises is piling on the pressure for Transnet to build a new cruise terminal in Durban by announcing plans to operate a bigger and more modern cruise liner out of Durban for the next summer season.

The company is bringing out the luxurious MSC Opera to South African waters for her maiden season from November. She replaces the slightly smaller MSC Sinfonia, which will operate out of Cape Town for the next season.

The move represents a major vote of confidence in the local cruise tourism industry by MSC Cruises, which has been calling for Transnet to expedite plans for building a cruise terminal in Durban. For the 2012/2013 summer season the company effectively plans to operate two large Sinfonia-class cruise ships, each with a more than 2 000 passenger capacity, out of South African waters for the first time.

MSC Sinfonia will replace the 1 500-passenger MSC Melody, which operated out of Cape Town this season and began her return journey to Europe on Monday.

While MSC Sinfonia’s new South African home port would be Cape Town, she will still be seen in east coast waters together with MSC Opera for the peak December season’s longer cruises out of Durban to Mauritius.

MSC Cruises’ announcement follows what is heading to be a bumper cruise season. Three weeks ago, its local company, MSC Starlight Cruises, reported that it had already carried more than 100 000 passengers on the MSC Sinfonia and MSC Melody for the present SA summer. MSC Sinfonia only leaves Durban for Italy at the end of March and still has a number of three and four-night cruises to Mozambique to undertake.

“The decision to send both MSC Opera and MSC Sinfonia to South Africa for the coming 2012/2013 season shows the level of commitment MSC Cruises has to the South African market,” said Allan Foggitt, head of marketing at MSC Starlight Cruises. “We will continue to invest in the destinations and the development of port infrastructure to continuously improve the product and the guests’ overall experience,” he added.

MSC Cruises’ success out of Durban has seen Transnet seriously considering plans to go ahead with the building of a modern cruise terminal adjacent to the Durban Point Waterfront inside the harbour.

Questioned about the status of the cruise terminal plan during a tour of the port last week, Hamilton Nxumalo, head of infrastructure at Transnet National Port Authority (TNPA), said nothing had been finalised.

“No decision has been made, despite a pre-feasibility study having been undertaken… We are spending about R21.3 billion in upgrades to the Durban Port over the next seven years, which is part of the R300bn infrastructure spending plan mentioned by President Jacob Zuma in his State of the Nation address. The R21.3bn that TNPA is spending in Durban does not include money set aside for the cruise terminal,” he said.

Nxumalo said Transnet was looking for a partner to invest in the cruise terminal development either as a public-private partnership or some sort of joint venture.

“It will cost anything upwards of R800m. But we are yet to put out tenders calling for expressions of interest from possible partners or investors,” he said.

The TNPA envisages the terminal being developed near the harbour’s entrance channel at berth A, which would provide easy access to the Point Waterfront and beachfront for cruise passengers.

In 2010 The Mercury reported former TNPA boss Khomotso Phihlela as saying the plan for Durban was to have an integrated cruise liner terminal. He said it could cost up to R2bn and would be ready by 2014.

“The study is to identify the best location for such a facility and what needs to be done to make it sustainable. This is why we are looking at an integrated cruise passenger terminal adjoining the Durban Point Waterfront,” he said at the time.

Durban Port manager Ricky Bhikraj told the Seatrade Africa Cruise Forum at Zimbali last May that if all went to plan Durban would have a cruise terminal commissioned by July 2015.

But Stefano Vigoriti, a director of MSC Cruises, said a plan needed to be finalised and construction under way by 2013.

“Insufficient infrastructure for cruise tourism in Durban won’t stall growth for now… But, it could inhibit growth in the future and business could go elsewhere.”

MSC Opera will arrive in Durban on November 22. Although regarded as sister ships, MSC Opera offers more cabins than Sinfonia – 856 for Opera versus 777 for Sinfonia.

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