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george

Dec 20, 2002, 10:12 AM

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Tampa Mexico Ferry

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(from the St Petersburg Times...www.sptimes.com search Tampa Progreso Ferry
Abstract:
In its third week of sailing to the Yucatan Peninsula and back, the cruise ferry M/S Scotia Prince left Tampa Tuesday with 70 passengers - about one-third of the company's target number.

The port convinced DaimlerChrysler to start shipping Florida- bound vehicles assembled in its Mexican plants through Tampa rather than sending them by truck and rail through Texas to St. Louis, then south to the Sunshine State.

Scotia Prince also has faced difficulties so far getting tourists and shippers to use the cruise ferry, which sails twice weekly from Tampa to the Yucatan. Chairman Matthew Hudson said last month that he'd be satisfied with as few as 200 passengers initially and "very, very happy" if loads rose to 500 toward the end of the five-month test run in April.

Full Text: Copyright Times Publishing Co. Dec 11, 2002

If anyone held delusions that doing business between the United States and Mexico is a day at the beach, John Hamill of Scotia Prince Cruises offered a cold slap of reality Tuesday.

In its third week of sailing to the Yucatan Peninsula and back, the cruise ferry M/S Scotia Prince left Tampa Tuesday with 70 passengers - about one-third of the company's target number.

Eighteen buses the ferry carried as cargo on the first voyage Nov. 22 are still sitting in the port of Progreso waiting for clearance from Mexican customs.

"Every day I try to make this work, and I'm frustrated," said Hamill, the company's chief operating officer, told attendees at U.S.-Mexico trade conference. "If it won't work now and it won't work here, it won't work in the future."

About 200 people from businesses and governments in states along the Gulf of Mexico are in St. Petersburg this week talking about the opportunities - and obstacles - to increasing trade in the region.

Eleven coastal states in the United States and Mexico in 1995 signed an agreement, called the Gulf States Accord, to promote economic development, cultural and educational exchanges.

Tuesday morning, representatives heard maritime and aviation experts describe the potential for improving transportation links between the Tampa Bay area and Mexico's gulf coast.

There have been some success stories, especially in shipping cargo across the gulf on what local proponents like to call "The NAFTA superhighway."

Tampa's port handles 2.3-million tons of cargo from Mexico annually, more than 80 percent of the total entering Florida. The vast majority is crushed limestone for road building and liquid sulfur used in making fertilizer.

The port convinced DaimlerChrysler to start shipping Florida- bound vehicles assembled in its Mexican plants through Tampa rather than sending them by truck and rail through Texas to St. Louis, then south to the Sunshine State.

Since April 2000, the company has moved 50,000 PT Cruisers, Ram trucks and Sebring convertables through the gulf to Tampa, port director George Williamson said.

Cutting the transportation time from more than a month to a little more than a week saves DaimlerChrysler "a huge amount of money" in carrying costs on the inventory alone, he said. General Motors, Nissan and other manufacturers know the story, Williamson said, but are afraid to shift their traditional shipping patterns.

"One of our biggest tasks is to change habits, overcome fears and misconceptions," he said. "It's okay. It works. Take the jump, we'll catch you."

Scotia Prince also has faced difficulties so far getting tourists and shippers to use the cruise ferry, which sails twice weekly from Tampa to the Yucatan. Chairman Matthew Hudson said last month that he'd be satisfied with as few as 200 passengers initially and "very, very happy" if loads rose to 500 toward the end of the five-month test run in April.

The company expects to lose money this first season and perhaps even in its second one, Hamill said.

He told Mexican officials that ferry passengers spend far more time and money visiting their states than regular cruise ship passengers who stop for a few hours.

"This experiment is not inexpensive," he said. "There is a goose with a golden egg. We need to feed it. If we do not, we'll have eaten the goose."

The news was not much better on the air transportation front.

Without nonstop service between the Tampa Bay area and Mexico's gulf coast states, travelers must connect through hubs like Houston and Atlanta. They typically spend eight to 12 hours each way.

Officials with St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport have lobbied low-fare carriers to begin nonstop flights. But with the industry in its worst economic slump, no one has been willing to take the risk, said Elaine Smalling, the airport's marketing chief.

- Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.
Sub Title: [SOUTH PINELLAS Edition] Start Page: 1E Dateline: ST. PETERSBURG Personal Names: Hamill, John


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