KINGSTON, Jamaica - A major Florida-based cruise line has signed a letter of intent to develop a new port on an isolated Haitian barrier island that's long been a major launching spot for smugglers, authorities said Monday.
Carnival Corporation, the parent company of Carnival Cruise Lines, said it signed a memorandum of understanding last week with the Haitian government for a cruise port on Ile de la Tortue off Haiti's north coast.
In a statement emailed Monday, Carnival said the development would create a "tremendous economic impact" for Haitians while also carving out a new spot for ship itineraries in the Caribbean, the globe's No. 1 cruise destination.
"The development will create an exciting opportunity for our guests to enjoy a new, secluded and stunning destination," said David Candib, a vice president for Miami-based Carnival.
In a recent tweet, Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said the initial investment on Ile de la Tortue will be $70 million.
Because of its remoteness, the mountainous island has long been a center for smugglers to organize dangerous sea journeys for poor migrants seeking a better life in the United States and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Ile de la Tortue, also known as Tortuga Island, is situated some 11 miles (19 kilometers) across cobalt waters from hardscrabble Baie des Moustiques.
The cactus-studded area's poverty stands out even in Haiti. Ile de la Tortue, where wooden boats of smugglers and subsistence fishermen line shorelines, has some of the poorest people in the hemisphere's most impoverished country.
But in February, Lamothe said officials had begun a program to improve opportunities, in part by paving the way for seven restaurants and by creating 1,000 jobs through a sanitation program. Farmers received free seeds and the national police force was to send some 30 officers to crack down on illegal migration.
Carnival said the company's new port would "directly or indirectly" employ more than 900 people.
Carnival's development would compete with Royal Caribbean's fenced-in cruise port and beach attraction Labadee, also on Haiti's north coast.
Jim Walker, a Miami maritime attorney and author of a blog called www.cruiselaw.com , said in an email that his concern is that this "this will be a Labadee-redux with Carnival sailing back with all of the profits to Miami."
Trade groups say the cruise ship industry injects about $2 billion a year into the economies of the Caribbean. But critics complain it produces little local revenue because the cruise companies and international chain shops on piers siphon away most of the earnings.
Earlier this year, Lamothe announced ambitious plans to transform the southern outlying island of Ile-a-Vache into a high-end resort with condos, spas and its own international airport. The $260 million project being built with a combination of foreign aid and private investment is scheduled to be completed in two years.