By Kenneth Silva
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ROAD TOWN, British Virgin Islands _ A tourism project that included an expanded cruise ship pier has been completed in the British Virgin Islands and is expected to draw tens of thousands of additional visitors per year to the Caribbean territory, officials said Wednesday.
The BVI has berthing agreements with Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line for around 425,000 visitors per year, a 21 per cent increase over current levels, government and industry officials said at a ceremony marking the pier’s expansion.
“This means thousands of more cruise ship passengers visiting our shores, and hence an increase in business opportunities for taxis and tour operators, vendors and restaurateurs, and others in the hospitality sector,” said Mark Vanterpool, minister of communication and works for the British Territory.
The project renovated the pier built in 1994, lengthening and widening it to accommodate larger vessels.
“The expansion of this pier will enable our Disney cruise line ships to call on the port of Tortola later this year, bringing additional visitors to the island and giving them an opportunity to explore and discover this truly one-of-a-kind destination,” Anthony Connelly, senior vice-president of operations for Disney Cruise Line, said at the opening ceremony.
The economy of the British Virgin Islands, which has a population of nearly 30,000, is heavily dependent on tourism but the project has faced controversy.
The BVI Ports Authority announced in 2012 that it was finalizing negotiations with a consortium of U.S.-based developers, Tortola Ports Partners, to invest $70 million in the territory in exchange for a long-term lease of government land.
Authorities in the U.K. objected to the deal and required the BVI to put the contract out to bid. The territory did so and awarded the contract to the consortium, over objections of a rival bidder, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.
In September, 2013, the consortium pulled out amid a disagreement over financing and the project was completed by the government, which has struggled to finance the development and is still working to raise an additional $10 million. Gov. John Duncan has rejected calls from opposition lawmakers for an independent inquiry into the awarding of the contract and the financing.
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