Every week in the European cruise season cruise ships pass Falmouth either heading east or west as they cruise around Britain or cruise to other European Channel ports.  As far as round Britain cruises are concerned companies plan their itineraries extremely carefully balancing port costs, steaming times between ports and shore facilities available, writes David Barnicoat.

Time and time again I have mentioned on this page that Falmouth is ideally located between other Channel ports and Cobh in Ireland. The link with the Port of Cork (Cobh) is probably one of the most important factors in attracting the mega cruise ships of today and the future if the Falmouth harbour dredging goes ahead because of the relatively short overnight steaming time between the ports.

The Port of Cork is one port that has realised the economic importance and potential of the European cruise industry by investing heavily in new port infrastructure to attract the cruise ships of all sizes including the 300 metre long mega ships now becoming common in Europe.

Building on the success of their initial investment to the port infrastructure the Port of Cork is now carrying out an in depth feasibility study as part of its cruise strategy into constructing a second dedicated cruise berth in Cobh to cater for the increase in vessels calling to Ireland and to facilitate the berthing alongside of the largest cruise ships.

Over the next five years the port authority plans to significantly increase the number of cruise ship visits to Cork and wants to concentrate all berthing in Cobh.

Port of Cork commercial manager Captain Michael McCarthy said: “We will be upgrading the current cruise berth from 2015 by installing additional bollards which will take the mooring ropes of the largest cruise vessels afloat”.

The longer-term solution is for the creation of an additional berth. “We’re fortunate that we have enough depth of water in Cobh to facilitate an additional berth and have the capacity to manoeuvre and swing these vessels free.” he explained.

The port has a target of 75 calls a year within the next five years. This year 54 calls are scheduled. Despite the number being slightly down on the 62 vessels in 2013, the vessels calling are larger and have higher passenger volumes. It is estimated that 108,000 passengers and 30,000 crew will visit the Cork region in 2014.

“We have two main objectives over the next five years, to grow the number of cruise calls and increase overnight stays. We are also aiming to handle the new Quantum-class vessels of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd and to this affect we are committed to investing in upgrading the current cruise facilities in Cobh,” McCarthy said.

“These ultra-large and modern vessels carry almost 5,000 passengers and no other port in Ireland is capable of berthing vessels greater than 300m currently, giving Cork a greater advantage when attracting new calls.” Bookings for the 2015 season so far include 17 vessels of 330m lengths or more indicating the trend towards larger vessels sailing in the cruise Europe region.

“Even though the cost of upgrading the current facility in Cobh is very significant, the Port of Cork is committed to the cruise sector due to its considerable financial benefit to the local economy and the Munster region in general.” 

It is estimated that the cruise liner business will inject €15m into the local economy this year.

Falmouth still awaits the final decision from the Marine Management Organisation as to whether it will grant permission for the dredging to go ahead. Whilst Cobh prospers Falmouth is in limbo as government mandarins hold the future of the town and port in their hands.