WICO will host 13 fewer cruise ships next season

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ST. THOMAS - The number of cruise ships expected to anchor at the West Indian Co. dock on St. Thomas in the 2014-2015 high season is expected to drop by 3 percent.

From October 2014 to September 2015, the WICO dock is expected to welcome 13 fewer ships than it did during the same time this year. The drop in the number of ships is attributed to the industry's shift toward European and Asian travel and to issues with availability of space for ships, according to WICO President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boschulte.

During the current year, WICO's dock saw 416 ships pass through, though next year the number is expected to be 403. Of the 13 ships lost, 11 were visitors in the summertime, according to a prepared statement WICO issued Tuesday.

Still, the reduced number is higher than they were in some recent years past. During the 2012-2013 season, the dock had 386 ships visit; 380 visits during the 2011-2012 season; and 427 visits in the 2010-2011 season.

The loss of ships expected for this upcoming season will equate to a loss of about 30,000 visitors, according to Boschulte. The WICO dock had about 1,460,000 cruise ship visitors this season and is anticipating about 1,433,000 during the 2014-2015 season, he said.

"There's potential for us to remain at the top. However, we need to continue to invest in the industry," Boschulte said.

WICO recently extended its dock to have space for three megaships to fit at its dock.

Austin "Babe" Monsanto Marine Terminal at Crown Bay, St. Thomas' other port, currently can berth two cruise ships.

Boschulte said that is not enough because the competing tourist destinations in the Caribbean - including Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, St. Kitts and Tortola - are expanding their docks to better accommodate more cruise ships.

V.I. Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty said she was unable to comment on how well the territory is meeting the demands of the cruise ship industry.

Nicholson-Doty said that many of the ships nowadays have a greater passenger capacity than they had in the past, which means more visitors, even if there are fewer ships passing through.

"Some of the larger ships are replacing the smaller ships," Nicholson-Doty said.

WICO plans to make additional room for more ships by eventually building a new finger pier in the Charlotte Amalie Harbor, according to its prepared statement Tuesday. It would allow for two Oasis-class ships, the statement said.

"It's important to make sure that we are on pace," Boschulte said.

In making the 2014-2015 schedule, WICO had to turn away ships on high demand days, usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays, during the high season.

To truly make the most of the demand from cruise ships, the ports need to have at least seven spaces available for the ships, Boschulte said.

"All of our competition has been building to meet the demand," Boschulte said. "If we don't provide the necessary supply, the ships will go to the other destinations. They're aggressively coming after St. Thomas."

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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