The Carnival Conquest's maiden voyage left the Port of New Orleans late Friday afternoon. The 208 foot ship sailed down the Mississippi River, into the Gulf, and then down to Mexico.
There's a spot on the river with a power line that dips to 176 feet at its lowest point. Right now, it's not a problem, the ship can sail around the low hanging line. But when the river rises this winter, that power line could be the jolt that reroutes the Conquest to the Port of Gulfport.
Bob Dickinson is the president of Carnival Cruise Lines. "If we don't get that resolved in the next month or two," Dickinson said, "we may be in Gulfport, whether we want to be in Gulfport or not."
Carnival's president said the massive 952 foot ship wouldn't risk sailing around the power lines just to stay in New Orleans. "We're not even going to try. It's too significant a risk," said Dickinson.
So if Louisiana doesn't settle the low hanging power line controversy, the cruise line president said, "We'll have to be in Gulfport."
That news created quite a bit of electricity at the Conquest's inaugural gala. We overheard two Louisiana residents talking about the power line issue over drinks. Carl Reneman said he was very concerned about the long term impact of Carnival potentially pulling out of the Big Easy. "It effects the economy of New Orleans." he said.
Debbie Warden said Louisiana better not let the ship sail out of town. She understands that Carnival can't stay in a port it can't sail from. "They're going to lose revenue," she said. "And if they lose that revenue, New Orleans is going to lose revenue."
Carnival's president said the Port of Gulfport is a viable option. "That's plan B is as best as I can put it," Dickinson said. "Our intention is to be in New Orleans for the fact that we need that size market to support the ship."
But if the power line doesn't get moved, and the ship can't get under it, Dickinson said Gulfport better be ready. "In all seriousness, they have a very large chance of getting this ship," he said.
Port of Gulfport officials did have talks last weekend with Carnival about the availability of their docks. Port director Don Allee said his office actually has a things to do checklist, just in case a cruise ship wants to dock in Gulfport. So, if Carnival wanted to move tomorrow, trips out of Gulfport could begin next week.
Remember, Carnival president Bob Dickinson said moving the Conquest to Gulfport is plan B. He'd rather keep it in New Orleans.
Most people expect either Entergy or the state of Louisiana to take care of the power line problem. There are some estimates that fixing the line over the Mississippi River could cost millions of dollars.