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Bush Administration OKs Takeover of U.S. Port Operations by Arab Company

On February 14, Dubai Ports World, a state-owned enterprise based in the United Arab Emirates, acquired control of British port-operations company P&O, making it the world's third largest port operator, with 51 worldwide terminals including six major U.S. ports: New York's cruise terminal, a large cargo terminal on the New Jersey side of New York harbor, and terminals in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Miami.

Aside from cargo screening functions performed by the Department of Homeland Security, port operators in the United States are responsible for the management of the port itself, as well as hiring security personnel and securing cargo coming in and out of the port.

Dubai Ports' takeover of P&O's U.S. operations required approval by the Treasury Department's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), whose membership includes the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; the Department of Homeland Security; the Secretaries of State, Defense, and Commerce; the Attorney General; and others. The move immediately drew concern from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

In a February 16 interview on MSNBC, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, noted that the staff of CFIUS "have twenty, twenty-five days to make a decision. You can't possibly do a thorough investigation in that period of time." The same day, senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Chris Dodd (D-CT) and representatives Chris Shays (R-CT), Vito Fossella (R-NY), and Mark Foley (R-FL) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary John Snow urging an immediate review the deal. At press time, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) had just called on the administration to revisit the issue, saying that if it did not he would introduce legislation to place the deal on hold.

Grand Turk Cruise Center Prepares for First Arrivals

On February 25, Holland America's new Noordam will make port in the Turks & Caicos Islands, celebrating both its own inaugural voyage and the inauguration of Grand Turk island's brand new $40 million cruise terminal (www.grandturkcc.com).

The Turks & Caicos are a British Crown Colony comprised of forty islands and cays located southeast of the Bahamas and north of Haiti. Part of what makes Grand Turk so grand is that just a few hundred yards from shore the shallow continental shelf suddenly plunges 7,000 feet. The healthy coral reefs on this undersea wall, combined with pristine waters and great visibility, make Grand Turl one of the top-five diving destinations in the world.

Last week, the Grand Turk Cruise Center released a list of excursions that will be available to the thousands of passengers expected to visit in 2006, as ships operated by HAL, Carnival, Princess, Crystal, Silversea, Oceania, and Radisson Seven Seas all begin their scheduled visits. Some 18 tours are currently planned, including:

  • Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour: lets passengers enjoy a narrated tour of the island while retaining the ability to jump off whenever they see something interesting; includes admission to Lighthouse Park at the Northern Outpost, and the old Her Majesty's Prison
  • Sea Trekkin': an underwater walking tour where participants wander through coral beds while holding onto a steady handrail
  • Semi-Sub: a narrated tour of the coral reefs and its marine life aboard a dry semi-submersible craft
  • Snuba: a combination of snorkeling and scuba
  • Gibbs Cay Excursion: with options for nature exploration, beach relaxation, or snorkeling with the cay's docile stingrays
  • Grand Turk Bike & Hike: a bicycle tour with stops at Grand Turk landmarks, followed by a short hike to Matterson Beach for a swim
  • Clear Kayaking: a guided tour of South Creek, learning about its abundant plant and animal life
  • Horse Drawn Carriage Tour: with narration that shines a light on Grand Turk's history.
  • Grand Turk Horseback Ride N' Swim: tour Grand Turk's natural beauty on horseback, including a ride through beach shallows

Maris Offers Freighter Cruises to Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific

Freighters are one of the lifelines of the world economy, but of the 29,000-plus large oceangoing ships in the world, only about 1 percent carry both passengers and cargo. It's a special niche for travelers with the time and temperament to sail long itineraries -- anywhere from a few weeks to several months -- and who don't mind doing without the amenities of a modern cruise ship. The passenger list tends to be tiny (generally fewer than 12), the stays in port inconsistent (from half a day to several days), and the itineraries looong -- anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

Starting in March, and for the first time in many years, passengers with the time and inclination will be able to book 60-day cruises aboard modern French and German container ships to Australia and New Zealand, sailing from New York; Norfolk, VA; or Savannah, GA. The trips sail via the Panama Canal, visiting Manzanillo, Panama; Papeete, Tahiti; Noumea, New Caledonia; Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne, Australia; and Auckland, New Zealand (54). The average port time is one to two days. Travelers who wish to continue the voyage can stay aboard the ships as they cross the Atlantic en route to Northern Europe, an 84-day trip in all.

Accommodations are available for up to six passengers, with fares ranging from $108 to $144 per person per day. Departures are available year-round. For more information, contact Maris Freighter & Specialty Cruises (tel. 800/996-2747; www.freightercruises.com), an independent freighter-cruise specialist that also operates the Freighter Travel Club. Club membership ($36 per year) gets you a monthly magazine and discounts on voyages.

It's a (Good) Dog's Life on Cunard's QM2

Big, ocean-liner tough, and classically styled, Queen Mary 2 is a rarity in many ways, but one of the least known is its willingness to transport passengers' pets -- a holdover from the company's days as a leader in transatlantic transportation. A kennel with room for twelve dogs and cats was available from the ship's launch, with a full-time Kennel Master taking care of feeding, walking, and cleaning. Now, though, Cunard (tel. 800/728-6273; www.cunard.com) has enhanced its pet-friendliness even more with a range of upgrades, including:

  • extra-comfortable pet beds in two sizes
  • healthy gourmet cookies baked fresh daily and offered at "turn-down"
  • fleece blankets
  • an assortment of dog and cat toys
  • cat posts and scratchers
  • a selection of premium pet foods from top brands

In addition, traveling dogs and cats receive a gift pack with a QM2-logoed coat, Frisbee, name tag, food dish and scoop, a complimentary portrait with their owners, and a crossing certificate and personalized cruise card.

QM2's kennels and adjacent indoor and outdoor walking areas are open throughout the day, enabling guests to spend time with their pet. Doggy and kitty reservations may be made at time of booking, with fees ranging from $300 to $500.

New Caribbean Itineraries for Costa, and a New Ship Takes Shape

Though we're still in the middle of the '05-06 Caribbean season, cruise lines are already looking toward next year. Last week, Costa Cruises (tel. 800/462-6782; www.costacruises.com) detailed new itineraries for '06-07 that include new ports and new options.

In the Caribbean, the 2,720-passenger Costa Magica and the 2,112-passenger Costa Mediterranea will offer two different itineraries to both the eastern and western ports. In the western Caribbean, those ports will include Belize City (Belize), Cozumel (Mexico), Grand Cayman, Grand Turk, Key West, Ocho Rios (Jamaica), and Roatan (Honduras). In the Eastern Caribbean, the ships will call at Catalina Island and La Romana (Dominican Republic), Freeport and Nassau (Bahamas), Grand Turk, San Juan (Puerto Rico), St Maarten, St Thomas, and Tortola (British Virgin Islands). Ports vary by itinerary. In addition, Costa will also sail two 7-night Bermuda sailings from Ft. Lauderdale, including two full days in Hamilton. Both cruises will depart in April 2007.

Meanwhile, over in Italy, Costa celebrated the successful move of the 298-foot forward section of its new, 3,780-passenger Costa Serena from shipbuilder Fincantieri's Palermo yard (where it was assembled) to the Sestri Ponente shipyards in Genoa, where it was placed in the building dock for eventual fitting onto the ship's aft section.

Serena is the second of three new sister ships due to enter Costa service over the next four years. The first, Costa Concordia, will debut in July, followed by Serena in May 2007 and an as-yet-unnamed sister in summer 2009.

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