Carnival Cruise Lines have dropped the Antigua port from its 2019-2020 schedule, resulting in four ships – Breeze, Magic, Legend and Pride – being rerouted to other ports.

The move comes amidst conflicting reports from the small island state and on the heels of controversial statements from the island’s Prime Minister Gaston Brown who, among those comments, accused the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association of exploiting the Caribbean.

President of the Antigua and Barbuda Cruise Tourism Association Nathan Dundas confirmed the  Carnival Cruise Line withdrawal, and suggested that the island could be seeing similar action in the not too distant future.

No official reason was reportedly given for the withdrawal.

“All four ships booked commencing next season November 2019 to 2020 will be going to other ports,” Dundas said. Some 250,000 tourists were expected to have collectively visited the island during this period from these four ships alone.

Citing his fear that the island could “see more cancellations”, the cruise boss said the ripple effects could be considerable with impact on businesses and livelihoods large and small and across industries.

The island’s Minister of Tourism Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez has on Tuesday labelled Dundas’ statements as “deceptive”.

In a prepared statement, the Minister said, “The Ministry of Tourism and Investment condemns unequivocally a misleading and scare-mongering statement made by a local shipping agent, Nathan Dundas, which serves the purposes of interested parties, other than the people of Antigua and Barbuda.”

It went further to state that the number of passengers expected to be affected would be “approximately 12,200.”

The statement continued, “This is a relatively small number of the total cruise passengers that visit our country annually. Therefore, while we regret any loss of business, however, small in percentage terms, we do not anticipate any significant adverse impact on the stakeholders in our economy.”

The Tourism Minister said the cruise boss did not contact the Ministry, the Port Authority or the Tourism Authority prior to his statement.

Not so long ago, Antigua inked a US$83 million agreement with the London-based Global Ports Holdings (GPH) to develop the cruise port in St John’s. Government is reportedly developing a social campaign to dispel rumours that the port would have ownership apart from the state.

Recently, Antigua’s Prime Minister – known for his seemingly “fearless” verbal assaults across platforms – said “The FCCA is literally exploiting the Caribbean…” He was at the time comparing the per-passenger cost for a cruise, versus that is remitted to the Caribbean territories down the line. His argument was that there was significant imbalance in this regard when considering what costs each territory to provide and maintain attractive infrastructure for said visitors.

Per the Minister of Tourism however, “Nonetheless, the Ministry of Tourism makes it clear that we value highly our long standing and mutually beneficial partnership with Carnival Cruise Lines, and we will do all in our power to enhance it.”