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Ports from Palma to Tahiti Move to Place Limits on Cruise Ships

ports limiting large cruise ships
Palma in the Balearic Islands will limit cruise ships starting in 2022 (Ports de Balears)

Published Dec 27, 2021 7:51 PM by The Maritime Executive

After years of complaints about overtourism and the impact of mega cruise ships, an increasing number of ports are moving to find ways of restricting cruise ship arrivals. Many destinations favor land-based tourists on the belief that they contribute more to the local economy versus the large number of day visitors from cruise ships.

Officials for the Balearic Islands are hailing a new agreement that they reached with the major cruise lines and the trade group Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) to limit cruise ships over the next five years starting in 2022. The Minister of Economic Model, Tourism and Labor, Iago Negueruela, highlighted their agreement as the first time the cruise sector agreed to a significant decline and control of the number of ships and passengers coming to the popular tourist destination.

The agreement reached with the major cruise lines, including Costa, MSC, Marella, Royal Caribbean International, and TUI, comes after two years of negotiations. Starting in 2022, cruise ships will be limited to one mega cruise ship and three vessels total each day. A mega ship is defined as having a capacity of 5,000 or more passengers. The cruise lines also agreed to a maximum of 8,500 passengers per day on ships visiting that capital city of Palma. Because the agreement was reached after most calls were booked for 2022, they however are exempting up to 20 days permitting a total of four cruise ships on those individual days in 2022. There will be no exemptions starting in 2023.

Officials said the agreement would result in an immediate 14.5 percent decline in the number of calls versus 2019. For cruise ships accommodating more than 500 passengers, the number of calls will be reduced to 460 in 2022 compared to 538 in 2019. Total cruise ship visits including all ships regardless of capacity are now expected to be 518 in 2022 versus 594 in 2019, a decrease of 13 percent. 

While Palma was able to reach an agreement with the cruise lines, other destinations are moving to legislate the restrictions. Starting January 1, 2022, the government of Tahiti also plans on enforcing a ban on large cruise ships from most of its ports. Ships with a capacity of over 2,500 passengers will only be permitted to dock at Tahiti, Moorea, and Raiatea, while Bora Bora will limit calls to 1,200 cruise passengers per day.  The rules are also totally banning ships operating trans-Pacific voyages with a capacity of over 3,500 passengers. Ships based in Polynesia will be favored but limited to a capacity of 700 passengers. The municipality of Bora Bora had already imposed restrictions to preserve its lagoon.

Officials in French Polynesia said they were reacting to the fact that the number of calls had doubled to over 1,000 per year in 2018 and 2019. The number of passengers at the Port of Papeete, Tahiti was nearly 100,000 in 2018. 

Among the other destinations looking to future limits, the Bar Harbor Town Council voted last week to adopt a working draft proposal to limit cruise ships after months of debate and a survey of residents and businesses. The proposal calls for capping cruise passenger arrivals at 70 percent of the capacity booked for 2022 and a further reduction in 2023. The port has scheduled 180 calls in 2022, which could be limited to a maximum of 110. Bar Harbor, however, agreed to consult with maritime attorneys before enacting the proposed limitations.

Other destinations have been less successful so far in their efforts to limit cruise ships. Residents of Key West, Florida voted for limitations in 2020 only to have the state’s representatives and Governor Ron DeSantis override them with retroactive legislation in 2021. An effort to put a measure on the ballot in Juneau, Alaska also recently failed.