Mexican Multinational Expands Roatan’s Cruise Ship Dock a mid Controversy and Exposes Island’s Double Standards
In 2018 ITM Group has purchased a majority stake in the Port of Roatan cruise ship terminal from Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. ITM begun work on second berth and has planes to open it at the end of 2019. IMT is expanding by 500% the area of attractions “adventure islands” with restaurants, aviary, rays, kayaking, for cruise ship passengers. An investment of around $30 million.
While the money are jobs are attractive to many, some see hidden dangers of the expansion. “The people are for dock expansion, but not for ‘Disney Land’ expansion they are doing,” says Aleynzka Grant Watler, Constellation bight resident. “We contacted SERNA in December and they still haven’t sent an inspector.” Indeed, the people of Roatan and Constellation Bight have been left in the dark. “We don’t know the shape, size positioning of the island,” said Lean about the Port of Roatan non-transparent filling in of land in Constellation Bight.
There are numerous concerns about the damage to the coral, change of tides and currents in Constellation Bight and closing of a public swimming beach. “SERNA should not have issued permit to remove the coral,” says Francis Lean, executive director of the Marine Park. Lean is not alone in seeing the double standard of life on Roatan. “Environmental concerns and agencies are only a front to control which projects get through and which ones don’t,” said Kaveh Lahijani, owner of Little French Key that employs 80 full time people. “There are far greater forces at play than proper permitting, processing and protection of natural resources and environment of Roatán.”
Cruise ship tourism boom of the last ten years has strained Roatan’s infrastructure to its limits.
Despite numerous requests by Paya Magazine, Port of Roatan management, nor ITM has not answered any questions regarding their port expansion. “The community is against the project,” says Lean, but “this is a done deal unless the community stands up against this right now.”
Locals indeed are speaking up, but no one is listening. “We don’t want this Disneyland,” says Alex Watler, the secretary of the Constellation Bight patronato. Watler feels the community has been sidelined, sacrifices for personal interests of politicians and big companies. “We contacted the governor, fiscalia, minister of tourism, Ministerio Publico, BICA. They didn’t even want to see us, or made empty promises,” says Watler.
Constellation Bight is beautiful bight, but the constant turning of giant cruise ship propellers has damaged much of the coral in the area. While the environment has suffered, people have made profit from property values and excursions offered nearby. Marco Galindo Sr., owner of Gumbalimba Park that caters to cruise shippers, says that the property values have already doubled and “Now they will multiply a thousand percent.”
Watler sees double standards in how islanders and big business like ITM are treated. “A man had three fish pots [traps] here [in Constellation Bight] and Marine Park came in so fast and confiscated the traps. But now when there is so much damage, they don’t do a thing,” says Watler.
“I even told Jerry [Roatan’s Mayor Jerry Hynds]: you guys are going little guys like Little French Cay [for their lack of environmental permit] but do nothing about the damage done here.” While Little French Cay, a tourist destination several miles away from the port, is a fraction of size of Port of Roatan it gathered wrath of Municipal and mainland government in form of inspections, raids and fines. “This area [Port of Roatan] would not be open to general local public and would only really benefit the foreign investors intending to keep the cruise ship passengers and their dollars within the confines of the port,” said about the Port of Roatan expansion Lahijani.
The second Port of Roatan dock is planned to accommodate larger, Oasis size cruise ships like the Allure of the Seas. “These cruise ships are the future,” says Marco Galindo Sr. about the megaship bringing not 3,000-4,000 passengers but 7,000.
Some other businessmen who operate out of the existing Port of Roatan dock also feel that bigger ships and more passengers will leave plenty of cruise-shippers to leave the port and spend money on their attractions on Roatan proper. “I employ 20 people and 20 families are dependent on the cruise ship tourist,” says Vidal Villeda, 53, who owns Chocolate factory stands in two Roatan cruise ship ports and a chocolate factory center in West End.
Villeda is renting a three meter by three-meter stand at the cruise ship dock for $100 a cruses ship day. Villeda says that his rent hasn’t gone up since the Mexican conglomerate took over the Port of Roatan except for the maintenance fee of $50 a month. ‘They are brining bigger boats,” Villeda says about the Mexican conglomerate. “The more cruise ship tourist will come the better.”
The uncontrolled cruise ship tourism boom of the last ten years has strained Roatan’s infrastructure to its limits, attracted tens-of-thousands of mainland labor migrants and caused environmental damage to reef and soil that is impossible to enumerate in dollars. “If we keep destroying trees, it’s a matter of time and we will be like Haiti,” says Galindo Sr. who remains pessimistic about the long-term growth of the island. “In 15-20 years’, time we will be charging islanders Lps. 500 to hug a tree.”
Roatan’s love affair with fast growth and cruise shippers doesn’t only end in Port of Roatan or Mahogany Bay. The Santos Guardiola is financing a study to find out the best location for a cruise ship terminal in New Port Royal. This would bring a third cruise ship terminal to the island. “Santos Guardiola has a lot to offer at the East End of the island,” says Galindo. “It’s going to happen. It [Roatan] will be a cruise ship island,” says Galindo.
Relying on only one industry for the sustainment of the island is like putting all one’s eggs in one basket. Twenty years ago, Roatan was an island with several industries: fishing industry, seafood packing industry, dive industry, construction industry and cruise ship was yet another industry. “If cruise ships leave, we will starve to death,” says Galindo Sr.