Dover is up there with the premier cruise terminals in Europe

Contributed by editor on Apr 10, 2008 - 12:27 AM

The Prosser Perspective.... a weekly column from Dover and Deal MP Gwyn Prosser

10 April 2008

Before entering Parliament I worked for lots of different shipping companies and shipbuilders and over the years I witnessed dozens of ship launches and quite a number of quayside christenings – they were all memorable by different degrees but none of them could compare with all the splendour and spectacle that surrounded the christening of MSC’s luxury cruise liner, Poesia in Dover last weekend.

During my time working in the Clyde ship yards we used to have conventional ‘bow-first’ launches where the new vessel relied on the slope of the stocks, a bucketful of grease and the skill of a wee man with a big hammer to ensure the ship glided from shore to sea when the Champaign bottle struck the hull.

As ship sizes got bigger many shipyards adopted side launchings which were equally dramatic but far more predictable but in recent years the ceremonial launch by the shipbuilder has given way to ceremonial christenings by the ship owner and I defy anyone to do that better than did MSC at Saturday’s grand gala evening.

Dover did well to be chosen as the venue for such a prestigious occasion and it’s a testimony to the port that a major player like MSC selected Dover ’s Cruise Liner Terminal ahead of the dozens of continental ports available to the company. It’s the first time they’ve held a christening outside Italy and it’s recognition that Dover is now up there with the premier cruiser terminals of Europe .

Last year we had 132 cruise ship visits to Western Docks and despite stiff competition from the short-hall airline companies the traffic figures through Eastern Docks and the Speedferry terminal are also growing. Ferry companies – all round the coast – have voiced their concerns that some of the so-called cheap airline companies were disguising hidden costs like airport taxes and transit fares from customers and that their advertising was less than transparent. I made representations to Ministers and tabled a Parliamentary Motion exposing this practice and similar pressure from the Passenger Shipping Association has brought about some improvements in the airlines behaviour.

Dover Harbour Board are saying that additional costs like airport taxes and the inordinate delays that regularly occur have encouraged motorists to return to the ferries in their thousands and the most recent figures show more than 2.8 million tourist car journeys through the port which is the highest annual total since 1999.

Freight volumes are also continuing to increase and taken together with the surge in passenger numbers – all this extra activity represents significant increases in revenue for the carriers and the Port of Dover as the Harbour Board embarks on its ambitious £400 million development plan for Western Docks.

The expansion and enhancement of the port is planned to proceed in parallel with work to redevelop the town centre and reconnect these areas to attractions like Dover Castle and Western Heights . If it all comes together we really could see our first class vision for Dover become a reality and we’d have the perfect excuse for another grand gala evening of celebration.