lifestyle, travel This is Cozumel

Work has started to repair and improve Cozumel's 3 cruise ship piers, said Victor Vivas González, head of Cozumel's Port Authority in an exclusive interview with this week.

Mr. Vivas said that massive investments were being made to make the piers "stronger and more modern". The International Pier is expected to be the first to fully re-open - in September this year - following an investment of USD$12 million dollars.

Punta Langosta - which recently re-opened to cruise ship tenders - will open fully in October or November after USD$7 million has been spent on the dock and another USD$6.3 million on the commercial complex.

Carnival cruise line's Puerta Maya pier received the most damage from Hurricane Wilma, said Mr. Vivas, and is not likely to re-open for cruise ships to dock until the middle of next year.

Until the piers are ready for cruise ships to come along side, passengers will continue to be tendered in modern ferries to these 3 piers and the Downtown Pier.

Doubling of capacity?

Mr. Vivas said that the operators of all 3 piers were considering design changes that could double the capacity of each: from 2 to 4 ships. This could allow the island to dock 12 ships at a time, double the number prior to Wilma.

He said that Carnival were proposing a new Y-shaped design for Puerta Maya, but that this could cause ecological damage to the nearby Marine Park and may not be approved by the Mexican Government's Environmental Authority. He stressed that the reef was vital to Cozumel's tourism industry and that preserving it was the "number one priority".

Mr. Vivas also confirmed that Carnival owe the Mexican Government USD$52 million in port fees, which they have not payed since 1996. He added that he was "optimistic" the matter would be resolved amicably and that it should not affect the new proposals.

A more simple 200m (650 ft) extension to the Punta Langosta pier is awaiting approval from the Mexican Government. Engineers are also looking into the viability of extending the International Pier by some 100m (330ft) but this may be difficult due to a deep drop-off in the seabed at that location.