Princess Cruises has pulled the plug on Falmouth as a port of call for its cruise ships after 20 years of visiting the town, writes The Packet's In Port expert David Barnicoast.

Over a decade of prolonged and protracted environmental battles surrounding the capital dredging of Falmouth harbour to accommodate larger vessels, including mega cruise ships, has left Cornwall’s largest port in a state of economic limbo.

Meanwhile its European rivals take full advantage of the burgeoning cruise industry to improve facilities and boost their own economies.

The scientific results of the dredging survey conducted last year are with the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) who will ultimately decide whether or not to give Falmouth Harbour Commissioners consent to go ahead with a dredging programme. Any decision from the MMO is not likely to come until the end of the summer or early autumn.

In the meantime, Falmouth is the poor relation compared to other European destinations reaping the benefits of investment in port infrastructure.

Princess Cruises launches its 2014 European cruise programme next month when five ships from its fleet embark on 94 departures on 48 itineraries to more than 120 destinations.

However, Falmouth does not feature as a port of call in any of the cruises, despite the fact that Princess Cruises have been a much-valued customer for more than 20 years.

Initially, Falmouth hosted the Island Princess, Pacific Princess and the Royal Princess ships in the 1990s but with the arrival of the mega-cruise ships at 300 metres in length the number of calls decreased.

This year, Princess Cruises has pulled the plug on Falmouth as the 100,000-ton Emerald Princess makes her re-positioning cruise in April leaving Fort Lauderdale for the UK calling at the Azores Islands, Cobh, Dublin, Zeebrugge and Le Havre. She will be based in Southampton for sailings to the Mediterranean, northern Europe, and the Canary Islands.

In past years, Falmouth has hosted the mega cruise ships from the fleet on their transatlantic re-positioning cruises to and from the USA. Anchoring south of Black Rock, ships with up to 3,500 passengers on each call had to use tenders to put visitors ashore.

The world’s major cruise lines find tendering passengers ashore a logistical nightmare but for some ports such as Guernsey other important factors enhance their reputation as a cruise port. Despite having no designated cruise berth, the absence of VAT in Guernsey is a major factor when leading cruise companies design their European itineraries.

Guernsey is northern Europe’s most visited transit port and has seen a bumper year for cruises in 2013. Eighty-four cruise ships tendered in the capital, St Peter Port, throughout 2013; a phenomenal increase of 22 cruise ships from 2012. The island also saw a 54 per cent year-on-year increase in landing passengers from cruise ships with 110,040 people going ashore compared to 60,486 in 2012.

This year is set to be another strong period for cruising in Guernsey with 90 vessels already scheduled to call on the island, and robust forward bookings being made.

Cobh in Ireland will see 54 ships calling this year with many of them sailing past Falmouth carrying huge numbers of passengers. Most of the leading cruise companies support Cobh as the harbour board has invested heavily in new deep-water berths.

Falmouth is doing well in the lower end of the market attracting smaller luxury ships with an average passenger capacity of 600. This year should see 25,000 passengers coming here if the ships are almost full to capacity. German passengers account for more than half of the total coming to the port this year.

Industry pundits reckon if the port provided a deep-water berth to accommodate larger ships, within five years Falmouth could achieve 100,000 passengers per year.

Some European ports have already firmly grasped the initiative by joining forces to promote themselves to the major cruise companies. Cruise Atlantic Europe comprises eight ports in five countries of the Atlantic front, Lisbon, Porto (Leixões), A Coruña, Bilbao, Brest, St Malo, Dover and Cork.

One only has to look at the location of the ports to see that Falmouth would fit in nicely with Dover, Brest and Cork to enhance cruise ship itineraries. Many CAE ports can accommodate the 300-metre long ships at alongside berths.