The relocation of the cruise ship Carnival Spirit to Australia will result in an estimated $54 million loss to the Port of San Diego and nearby businesses, officials said Thursday.
Carnival, the world's largest cruise line, announced Wednesday that the 88,500-ton ship will be based in Sydney in April 2012, and will visit New Zealand and other Pacific islands.
The financial loss is based on the rule of thumb used by port officials that each call by a cruise ship in San Diego will bring about $2 million in business.
"I'm disappointed," said Rita Vandergaw, marketing director for the Port of San Diego. "The overall industry in the U.S. has shrunk."
The Carnival Spirit, which carries 2,667 passengers, makes 27 calls to San Diego per year, making runs to the Mexican Riviera.
Port spokesman John Gilmore said the economy and perceptions about crime in Mexico have combined to hurt the local cruise business.
In 2009, after Disney's cruise line chose Los Angeles over San Diego for its hub, Carnival discontinued its year-round ship to the Baja California coast amid slow sales and worries of violence in Mexico.
Adding to the pain is a loss of business by the Carnival Splendor, which caught fire off the coast of Baja California last November and needed to be towed to port in San Diego Bay.
The ship has been undergoing repairs in San Diego ever since, but is about to leave any day for the San Francisco area for more extensive work, according to Gilmore.
It wasn't immediately known if Carnival Cruises planned to plug the gap in San Diego with another ship, or if another cruise line would send more ships to the region.
Holland America is planning its usual 40-50 calls to San Diego this year, but it's unknown whether they or another cruise line will send more ships to fill the void.
In a three-year span, the number of passengers in San Diego is expected to drop from 514,000 to 193,000 in 2012. Total dockings are expected to drop from 152 to 76, which translates into loss of $152 million to the local economy.
Additionally, the cost of the new Broadway Pier terminal, paid mostly with public money, stands at $28 million.
10News' Michael Chen asked Vandergaw, "Given how the industry is trending, was this terminal a waste of taxpayer money?"
"Absolutely not," Vandergaw responded.
Port officials said utilizing the terminal will allow for the main terminal to be renovated. The space will also be rented out for events.
Meanwhile, the Port of San Diego has stepped up its marketing campaign to cruise companies, highlighting the Embarcadero's short distance to an airport and hotels, along with a new terminal.
Because most cruise passengers are U.S. citizens, the Port is optimistic, especially when the economy turns around.
"The cruise companies will look to bring ships back to us, and when they do San Diego [will] be ready," said Vandergaw.
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