Searsport wants to get the necessary licensing in time to welcome an international cruise ship in October.
In this Sept. 10, 2019, file photo, a cruise ship dwarfs Spring Point Light as it makes its way into Portland Harbor. If certified, Searsport would become the fifth port in Maine with the necessary security measures to allow international vessels. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The Searsport Select Board voted Tuesday in favor of seeking security certifications that would allow foreign-flagged ships to come to port at the town wharf.

The board voted 3-1 in favor of the proposal outlining the process required so the town will now move forward with submitting an application to the Coast Guard for security clearance.

One cruise line has already reached out about having a vessel stop in Searsport for one day in October, Town Manager James Gillway said. Gillway created the proposal after consulting with experts who said the necessary training and licensing could be completed in time for that ship’s arrival. An exact timeline is still unclear, Gillway said.

“This, in a way, will be a good test for us [to host a ship in October],” Gillway said.

If certified, Searsport would become the fifth port in Maine with the necessary security measures to allow international vessels, joining Portland, Rockland, Eastport and Bar Harbor. With the uncertainty around Bar Harbor’s potential limit on the number of cruise ship passengers allowed to come ashore per day, cruise lines have been looking for alternative ports to visit down the line.

Searsport would be the smallest port accepting international ships, and would follow in Rockland’s footsteps by seeking certification to process ships that have already gone through the customs process at another U.S. port. Foreign-flagged ships account for 96 percent of all cruise ship passengers that come to Maine, officials said.

The certification and training will cost the town around $9,700 this year, Gillway said, and there may be potential recurring costs to renew the license. Searsport’s next step is to put together a facility assessment report detailing the layout of the wharf and highlighting any potential security risks to submit with the Coast Guard application.

Gillway recently met with Cruise Maine and cruise industry leaders to learn more about changes to the industry, but the discussions about allowing cruise ships to come to port have been going on for a long time.

“We’ve actually been on a pathway for this for 15 years,” Gillway said.

This isn’t the first time Searsport has sought the security clearance. A previous effort was unsuccessful, Gillway said. It wasn’t immediately clear when that happened.

This time is different, though, with Searsport working with Cruise Maine to create procedures for handling a large influx of people and may even look to fund renovations to make the wharf more accessible and welcoming for cruise ship passengers, Gillway said.

The biggest infrastructural challenge for Searsport will be ensuring that buses to and from the wharf don’t cause congestion, Gillway said, but he believes cruise ships coming to port will have a positive impact on local businesses.

“This is an economic development situation all the way, this is about bringing people to Searsport,” Gillway said.

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Braeden Waddell

Braeden Waddell is a reporter covering Belfast and Waldo County. He grew up in Waldoboro and joined the Bangor Daily News in 2023 after working as an associate producer for National Public Radio. He graduated...