Aug. 31, 2002 – Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards' decision not to appear as expected before a Senate committee to talk about plans to entice cruise ships back to St. Croix struck another witness who did appear at the Friday hearing as illogical.
Hugh Dalton, organizer of the visitor-oriented Harbor Night festivities held in Frederiksted in the last couple of years when cruise ships were in port, said Richards had let him know that she would not show up at the hearing. But he said the meeting was important because it came at a sensitive time in negotiations with the one cruise line still calling regularly at the Frederiksted port.
The Government Operations Committee wanted to know about the Tourism Department's new marketing plan and other initiatives taken by the department since Carnival Cruise Lines and then two other lines removed St. Croix from their itineraries several months ago. The committee members also were expecting an update on the status of an agreement between the department and the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association.
Calling it a waste of time, the committee chair, Sen. Emmett Hansen II, canceled the meeting 15 minutes after its scheduled start when a letter arrived from Richards saying she would not appear. Hansen then sent a message to committee members and other witnesses who had not yet left St. Thomas to fly to St. Croix for the session, telling them to forget it.
In her letter, Richards also told Hansen she would not comply with the committee's request that she submit in writing the department's plans to address the pullout of the cruise ships.
One scheduled witness who did make it to the Friday morning hearing was Dalton, who said on Saturday that he understood that the hearing was Hansen's "way of monitoring what the cruise lines wanted from us."
"Royal Caribbean is the only cruise line that continues to come to St. Croix, and they are under a lot of pressure by the other cruise lines not to," Dalton said. The cruise line's executives are looking for assurances concerning the safety and security of their crew and passengers, he said. Crime against passengers and crew was cited by Carnival last spring as its reason for canceling the regular calls of two ships.
Also, Dalton said, the cruise executives are looking for improvements in the shore experience visitors have — "even it if was on a Sunday afternoon."
Private sector and government representatives have formed a coalition called St. Croix Alive in an effort to meet some of those demands, Dalton said. He said Richards has been actively working with the group and has some plans on the drawing board. Had she appeared before the Senate committee, he said, "Nothing she could have said would have been news to me."
Attempts to reach Richards for comment were unsuccessful.
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