Tender for cruise centre hits snag

THE quest to find an operator for Singapore’s International Cruise Terminal (ICT) has hit a snag with barely 11/2 years to go before its completion.

A tender to find an operator for the $500 million terminal in Marina South was held in the last quarter of last year.

Response to the tender was lukewarm, with only seven companies picking up documents for it.

In the end, only one firm – Singapore Cruise Centre (SCC), which operates both the HarbourFront and Tanah Merah Ferry terminals – put in a bid. It is the only company here with expertise in this area.

But last week, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) informed SCC that it had decided not to award it the tender. Instead, it has called a new tender this week.

When contacted, STB deputy director of cruise Remy Choo did not give reasons for rejecting SCC’s bid.

He would say only that ‘after a careful evaluation of the sole tender bid… STB has decided not to proceed to award the tender’.

Mr Choo added that STB plans to relook the tender specifications for the ICT operator to make it more attractive to potential bidders. He did not elaborate.

A re-tender is expected in the second half of this year, with the aim of appointing the terminal operator by early next year.

Cruise industry players are now worried that the delay in getting an operator for the terminal may have a snowball effect on its operations.

Silversea Cruises regional director (Asia) Melvyn Yap said cruise liners typically plan their itineraries and ship deployments at least 18 months in advance, and thus need to book the necessary berths early.

But as there is no operator appointed for ICT yet, they cannot book berths even if they want to, he said.

Mr Ng Swee Khoon, general manager of operations for C.F. Sharp Shipping Agencies, the local agent for Princess Cruises and Carnival Australia, said it has planned itineraries for ship sailings till 2012.

All have been booked to call at SCC’s HarbourFront terminal because that is the only option available, he said.

Some operators say that with no bookings, it is possible that no ships will call at the ICT when it is completed next year.

The ICT is the latest piece in Singapore’s tourism jigsaw. It will have no height restrictions, unlike the HarbourFront Terminal, and will be able to accommodate the world’s biggest cruise liners.

But since construction of the terminal was announced with great fanfare in March 2008, the project has had a choppy ride.

It was to have been completed by the end of this year to give it a two-year lead over rival ports. Hong Kong, for instance, is also constructing new berths.

But last year, the completion date was pushed back to 2011, to allow ‘more detailed consultation and study to take place’ because of the complexity of the project, which involves reclamation and marine engineering works.

Operators expressed unhappiness at the delay. They were worried that Singapore would lose out to regional competitors in the lucrative international cruise business.

They noted that rivals, like the massive Shanghai Post International Cruise Terminal, had been up and running for years now.

Operators here have been clamouring for new berths for years.

Overcrowding at the existing terminal at HarbourFront leaves ships no choice but to call at the container terminal at Pasir Panjang, which is not equipped to take passengers.

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