The NSW Government asked to take Port Kembla's potential as a turnaround cruise port seriously

Port potential: Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas sailing into Port Kembla in January. Picture: Greg Ellis.
Port potential: Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas sailing into Port Kembla in January. Picture: Greg Ellis.

Illawarra Business Chamber is calling on the NSW Government to seriously consider Port Kembla’s potential to take the pressure off overcrowded cruise ship facilities in Sydney.

It comes amid calls this week for alternate ports and infrastructure to service the growing demand of the $2.9 billion cruise industry so NSW does not lose its dominant market share.

There have previously been calls for a second international passenger terminal in Sydney to handle large ships that cannot fit under the bridge. And Port Botany is being nominated as one option to prevent more business being lost to Victoria and Queensland.

But the chamber is calling on politicians to consider doing more with Port Kembla. Executive director Chris Lamont said further growth can be accommodated at the port which has shown its significant capacity by easily handling four cruise ships over summer.

The chamber wants to identify ways port infrastructure can be further developed to support more. It thinks NSW Government investment in additional facilities will help Wollongong realise its full potential to become a turnaround port. That will provide greater economic benefit to the Illawarra and help NSW maintain its 63 per cent market share.

With cruise lines considering taking more ships to Melbourne boosting capacity to meet the rapidly growing demand should be a high priority for the NSW Government.

Destination Wollongong general manager Mark Sleigh said the tourism body "is working closely with the cruise industry and all the stakeholders at Port Kembla to ensure Wollongong maximises any further opportunities to facilitate growth in this exciting new sector of the local visitor economy”.

Kollaras Group’s Michael Kollaras supplies beverages to all cruise lines in Australia and doesn’t think the NSW Government is taking Wollongong seriously because there are so many advantages in making Port Kembla a turnaround port. “Everyone has got to stop treating us as a poor second cousin. I believe our infrastructure in Port Kembla is easier than Sydney and is some of the best in the country. The ability and access into the port is simpler than most. And there are vessels mooring at White Bay which is industrial as well. It takes almost as long to get to Sydney Harbour from the airport as it does to Port Kembla. The only benefit Port Botany has is its proximity to the airport. But it too is congested”.

Mr Kollaras said the jobs created for the Wollongong community in Port Kembla becoming a turnaround port would be phenomenal.

“I am not understanding why the State Government would allow these ship operators to move from NSW which presently has over 60 per cent of the market,” he said.

“International passengers are always going to want to stop in Sydney (to see the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge). I don’t understand why NSW would allow that to go when we have the resource here (at Port Kembla) to enable us to execute turnarounds better than what most ports in this country can. We feel sorry for our international cruise operators that are being pushed out.”

Newcastle is one NSW port that has been attracting more cruise ship visits in recent years but Mr Lamont said he has only heard rave reviews from passengers and businesses about what Wollongong did over summer and the stronger trade retailers enjoyed on cruise days.

“I think we have a very good story to tell and we are much closer to Sydney than Newcastle,” Mr Lamont said.

“We offer a unique Australian experience but I think there is so much more we could be doing. There should be a proper discussion around infrastructure for us as a lay-over port. What every city centre really needs is that injection of vibrancy and that injection of trade. Certainly these ships when they are here provide that.”