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Cruising For Trust

July 21, 2021

By Chris Grounds

Could a new project to bring cruise ships into Jervis Bay be trusted and taken on face value? Certainly not and neither should it be.

The NBT has reported previously over the last seven years on the debate associated with cruise ship operations in Jervis Bay and it is a story that keeps giving!

A new mixture of tourism, cruise ships, a jewel of the natural environment and a marine park begs scrutiny, and an inclusive, open and a transparent decision-making process that includes the community.

The project is the brainchild of the tourism management arm of the NSW government’s Ports Authority, which “is charged with bringing economic development to coastal communities”. The Authority's core duty is responsibility for the management of the six major ports of NSW, which does not include Jervis Bay. The Authority has indicated that it has had initial consultations with the Navy and Department of Primary Industry-Marine Parks.

There is history with Jervis Bay, some of it very recent, that warns of the vigilance needed in proposals to exploit the Bay.

It could be argued that there is some sustainable equilibrium of use and environment now in the Bay with smaller scale commercial use and recreation there are some lingering questions over environmental impact.

There is no doubting the environmental value of the Bay. There has been and will always be so much at stake environmentally with the Bay. 

The Bay itself is part of the Jervis Bay Marine Park declared in 1998.  The Department of Primary Industry, the umbrella to Marine Parks, notes on its website that Jervis Bay is valued for “unique geology and oceanography, relatively natural and undeveloped coastline and mix of ecosystems, habitats, flora and fauna”.

shallow waters with fish and algae and stingray at Currarong, Jervis Bay Marine Park
Jervis Bay Marine Park supports a huge variety of marine plants and animals including several threatened species. Photo credit: kcoffin99/Shutterstock.com

Various currents combine to flush the Bay every 24 days. The region “supports over 230 algae, hundreds of invertebrate and over 210 reef fish species, and sharks, rays, many marine mammals, birds and reptiles, including several threatened species”.

The Marine Park within the Bay consists of a majority of ‘Habitat Protection Zones’ and a range of ‘Sanctuary Zones’ such as Huskisson and Currambene Creek Sanctuary Zones.

It is recognized that Aboriginal people have “strong ties to the Jervis Bay area over thousands of years and many culturally significant Aboriginal sites exist within the Marine Park”.

It is not a circumstance in which any cruise ship operation, no matter the scale, could be regarded as anything other than being subject to the most stringent conditions and there are formal conditions attached to any permit application.  There is a particular type of cruise ship operation such as Carnival Cruises, the big cruise ships, that should never be accepted in the Bay and that is a result of the reputation and status they have developed.

The Port Authority appears to have acknowledged this, indicating the new project is intended for small cruise boats of 60 to 300 passengers, initially domestic passengers who would be brought to Huski wharf for further activities, including local tours.

The Authority was boasting in December 2018 that the previous cruise season in Eden accommodated ships from 175 to 3,476 passengers in size and crew in 14 visits worth $8.1million, mostly generated from the spending of the passengers and crew.

Cruise ship coming into Eden New South Wales
They are big!!! A cruise ship coming into the port at Eden, NSW, 2019. Photo credit: oureden.com.au

A history of ill-conceived proposals

There is a steady history of doomed, ill-conceived and even ridiculous proposals for the use and exploitation of Jervis Bay and the adjacent country.

The northern geography of the Bay could have featured massive industrial and urban development under historic Halloran proposals and plans.  It is now part of the Jervis Bay National Park, which in itself remains a concept in progress over a significant part of the Shoalhaven.

There has been of course, that infamous, even legendary nuclear power plant idea for the Bherwerre Peninsula at Murrays Beach that was doomed from inception though the scar remains as a constant reminder.

At one point an ammunitions storage facility was considered.

Potential exploitation of the Bay got out of hand in 2014 when the Jo Gash council was the beneficiary of state grants for a ‘Shoalhaven wide dredging project’ at various Shoalhaven estuary sites, including Currambene Creek at Huskisson on Jervis Bay.

The idea was that cruise ship tenders would bring passengers to the Huski wharf, with their wallets, to the benefit of the shopping centre and possible local cruise boats.  What was quite hidden from the public and community was that the cruise ship company that had lobbied for this was Carnival Cruises, notoriously one of the most environmentally damaging such companies on the globe. They ‘Failed’ the 2014 Friends of the Earth global assessment.

To get the cruise boat tenders in required dredging of Currambene Creek entrance or so the community was eventually informed as a tooth pulled with great difficulty. The dredging was fraught with problems not the least of which was that there was no time scale possible on the benefit of the dredging, from any party, engineers or council.

Currambene creek flowing into Jervis Bay at Huskisson NSW Australia
The sandy shallow river bed of Currambene creek where it flows into Jervis Bay at Huskisson, NSW. Photo credit: Taras Vushnya/Shutterstock.com

Such projects require substantial public expenditure on infrastructure and works, with an income benefit to a few who do not contribute and in the case of a number of the notable cruise ship companies, return nothing in taxation from income to the domestic economy. They are general registered in foreign country tax havens.

The how and why of the current dilemma

Forward to 2021, smack bang in the middle of the Delta Covid situation and the Bay communities discovered that there was a major project to reintroduce cruise ships into Jervis Bay.

The source was a little surprising – the NSW coalition government’s own Ports Authority. Venturing beyond their traditional responsibilities in managing ports such as Port Kembla and Eden, the newly created ‘Tourism Management’ arm would be looking at cruise ship visit opportunities on the NSW coast.  It couldn’t surprise that the gleaming jewel of Jervis Bay looked ripe for the picking.

How could this happen?  The authority which issues permits for entry into the Bay is the local Jervis Bay Marine Park management and there are no such permits valid at the moment. The Federal Government has only recently extended the ban on cruise ships in Australian waters and Australian ports from June to September 17 2021.

The Port Authority arranged a briefing of councillors on the Jervis Bay project, the only Shoalhaven site in their planning, despite council’s lack of jurisdiction. Not all councillors attended and the matter has not appeared on any business papers.

What did the Shoalhaven community more broadly and the Bay communities and their representative organisations know of this? Very little it seems. Would it have been a good idea to bring the community in on the briefing?  Of course it would if the value of community engagement was respected and the ‘community’ was recognized as a ‘stakeholder’ to the matter, which of course they are.

A community enquiry to the Port Authority tourism manager elicited an extended information response, which was then shared among the community organisations. The door to the cruise ship tourism room, albeit the 2021 version, was open but understand this was at the community’s own behest and action.

Needless to say the community has been closely examining the situation and further questions have been asked.

Seals playing in the pristine waters of Jervis Bay Marine Park
Seals playing in the pristine waters of Jervis Bay Marine Park. Photo credit: smartcamper.com.au

Indeed, one foreign cruise ship company was already advertising a cruise involving Jervis Bay with two advertising photo errors of some ignorance suggesting access to a beach site where boats cannot land and promoting a large bird area recognised for a species that is very rarely seen. Why let the truth get in the way of a good cruise advertisement.

Ponant, a French cruise company have two advertised cruise ship tours that include Jervis Bay for December 15 and 16. They offer Jervis Bay to customers as “Jervis Bay is a large natural harbour on the New South Wales south coast. Nearly a hundred years ago it became Canberra's access to the sea. The area is a large National Park of tranquil Australian bush, where it is a joy to see animals in their natural habitat. It also has three small lakes and three charming, small, villages which are a delight to visit".

There is no equal of the advertising of used cars, real estate and cruise ships.

Feature image: Cruise ship in Jervis Bay. Image supplied

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    5 comments on “Cruising For Trust”

    1. I had some experience with cruise ships in Alaska and the small ship I was on carried just 96 passengers and was 97 metres in length.If large ships are allowed to operate in Jervis Bay, who will pay for the necessary wharf facilities. One port in Alaska (Sitka) refused to construct such a wharf and all passengers came to shore in power boats. My ship was the only ship which could use the wharf and it was also small enough to navigate the fjords where the larger ships could not. I would not like to see vessels carrying 3,000 people trying to navigate around Huskisson or the shores of Jervis Bay as normal vessels would be harmed as well as the existing sandy beaches,people who are fishing from shore and swimmers.

    2. Thanks Chris. Your writing is as always well informed and on point. We need to stay vigilant to the pressure to allow all sorts of crazy stuff including cruise ships into Jervis Bay. Your work on this and all things environmental is greatly appreciated.

    3. The NSW Ports Authority also has a proposal for a cruise ship terminal at Yarra Bay in Botany Bay (put on ice at the moment)and for a ferry crossing from La Perouse to Kurnell. The main beneficiaries from these proposals are the cruise operators who even offered to toss money into developing a cruise terminal. The Ports Authority is turning into a property developer.

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