Sea Princess agrees to call on St. Thomas
By LYNN FREEHILL
Tuesday, September 25th 2007
ST. THOMAS - Ten winter cruise calls to the territory that had been canceled because of long waits to clear U.S. Customs have been reinstated.
Following negotiations with the V.I. government and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Princess Cruises will return St. Thomas to the Sea Princess' itinerary.
The 1,950-passenger ship carries mostly Britons, continental Europeans and Canadians, and the line said that admitting those non-U.S. citizens into the country could take up to three hours.
To shorten the clearance time, Princess agreed to bring the ship to Crown Bay at 6 a.m., one hour earlier than initially planned. Customs, meanwhile, agreed to devote more manpower to that ship.
The agency will assign "the appropriate number of individuals" to process passengers each day, Keith McFarquhar, assistant director for Caribbean border security, said.
"CBP is committing additional resources, and based on that we understand and believe that it will allow our passengers, the non-U.S. citizens, to disembark the ship so that they can go ahead and make their excursions, which begin at 8:30 a.m.," Julie Benson, Princess' vice president of public relations, said.
Customs had not known the reason for the Sea Princess call cancellations until the decision was made public earlier this month, McFarquhar said.
"Once we knew of that, we did what we do with all companies - we try to work with them and accommodate them. We are not in the business of interrupting business," he said. "We know that tourism is the lifeline of the U.S. Virgin Islands. We just sat down and worked it out."
Upon learning of the cancellations, Gov. John deJongh Jr. contacted Tarance Drafts III, Customs area port director, and Steve Nielsen, Princess' vice president for Caribbean and Atlantic shore operations, to reach a resolution. Darlan Brin, V.I. Port Authority executive director, and Steve Vasaturo, president of local ship's agent company Deliver It Inc., also aided in the negotiations.
The Sea Princess, which homeports in Barbados and Jamaica, commences calls to the V.I. on Nov. 14, returning approximately every other week.
The restoration of the Sea Princess calls brings St. Thomas back up to 719 cruise calls scheduled for the 2007-2008 high season, nine more than were expected during the 2006-2007 season.