To accommodate rapid growth in the North American passenger cruise industry, U.S. ports are facing potential expenditures of $150-300 million to meet existing Federal regulations for cruise facility design and space. That’s the conclusion of a study launched this year by the American Association of Port Authorities
(AAPA), with the results unveiled at AAPA’s annual convention in Curaçao.
AAPA initiated the study to address cruise ports’ pressing concerns over elaborate, cumbersome, costly and duplicative Federal requirements. The association retained the services of Bermello, Ajamil & Partners, experts in facility design. to conduct the study and recommend solutions.
Under current regulations, separate facilities must be provided at cruise ports for Federal inspectors to conduct immigration, customs and agriculture checks. Although these spaces typically are used only part time, the space accounts for up to 30% of the entire port facility. The study found that ports have invested millions of dollars and extensive time constructing and re-constructing facilities to comply with strict regulations, only to have these expensive facilities frequently go underutilized.
“At a time when port resources are being stretched thin to meet other important priorities, it is essential that money spent on cruise facilities be invested wisely,” said Kurt Nagle, AAPA President. “Ports are facing urgent funding needs for enhanced security, dredging and infrastructure improvements that are absolutely necessary in order to accommodate the burgeoning growth in international trade. Cruise port dollars that are currently being spent to meet excessive and redundant regulations are desperately needed elsewhere.”
While concerned about these high expenditures, Nagle also noted that ports are encouraged that the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection is now establishing a new frontline inspection officer position at ports to replace the need for three separate inspectors.
“AAPA is hopeful that this step toward ‘one-stop processing’ will significantly reduce the existing space requirements,” Nagle said.
Historically, passenger processing was conducted directly onboard cruise ships. However, in 2000, Federal agencies requested a land-based Federal Inspection Service
(FIS) that included Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS), United States Customs
Services (USCS) and Animal Plant and Health Inspection Services (APHIS). The spatial and technical requirements mandated by these agencies have had a dramatic and costly impact on cruise terminal design and operation. For example, in addition to queuing and inspection areas, the agencies require ports to provide them with administrative spaces, break rooms, workout facilities, locker rooms, separate bathrooms and many other non-essential elements.
Despite the elaborate requirements, the study found that Federal agencies often fail to assign adequate manpower to occupy these custom-made terminals. As a result, even newly built FIS spaces are frequently unoccupied.
It is estimated that U.S. ports will need 56-70 new terminals over the next 15 years to keep up with cruise industry growth. Based on existing FIS guidelines, these terminals will require an additional 1,000,000 to 2,100,000 square feet of space to accommodate the agencies’ requests, at a cost to ports of $150-300 million.
The study concluded that efficient planning and consolidation of agency requirements can significantly reduce space needs and save ports up to $175 million. Now that the three inspection services are housed with the Department of Homeland Defense, ports seek the opportunity to restructure current requirements and simplify the inspection process.
To revise and improve existing regulations, the study recommends the following measures: A thorough review of all office needs to avoid overbuilding; centralization of all FIS support offices into a single location; building flexibility into FIS processing procedures to pave the way for future advances in techology; consolidation of space among the former INS, USCS and APHIS agencies; and consolidation of passenger processing to a single area.