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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. In the port of Shanghai, cruise ships are stuck in a tough spot. A new cruise terminal has been built, but some of the ships can't actually reach it. As NPR's Louisa Lim reports, this dilemma represents one of the downsides of China's rapid development.

LOUISA LIM: I'm standing on the balcony of an extraordinary building overlooking Shanghai's Huangpu River. The building is glass. It's shaped like a water drop, which is in fact its nickname. And it was just finished in August this year at a cost of $260 million. This is Shanghai's new international cruise terminal. There's just one small problem.

Ms. KAREN MANN (Director of International Sales, Luxury Line Crystal Cruises): There's a little bit of a challenge because one of our ships cannot fit under the bridge.

LIM: That's Karen Mann, director of international sales at the luxury line Crystal Cruises. She's talking about the Yangpu Bridge, which is so low many larger cruise ships can't fit under it to reach the terminal.

Ms. MANN: If you're too high, you can't get through there. It could possibly deter some of the cruise lines to be able to come in to this terminal.

LIM: The Yangpu bridge, built in 1993, is just 165 feet high. That means almost a third of the world's cruise liners can't fit under it, according to one estimate in Seatrade Cruise Review Magazine. Even for those that can't fit under, those less than 87,000 tons, it's not easy. Michael Goh from Star Cruises describes the procedure.

Mr. MICHAEL GOH (Senior Vice President, Sales And Marketing, Star Cruises): One of our cruise ships actually sailed under the bridge. It is a 76,000 ton ship. We do a lot of preparation work, study of the tide to ensure that it is absolutely 100 percent safe. Of course, I think with that, we have to have to spend a lot of resources, a lot of money, to do a lot of studies and things like that.

LIM: As the international cruising companies hold their first conference at the new cruise terminal, there's praise for the terminal's modernity and its environmental friendliness. But it's clear the bridge is a problem. Today's trend is towards bigger and bigger super cruisers. So as time goes on, the problems caused by the low bridge will get worse. Two-thirds of cruise ships currently being built will be too big to get under the bridge. So how did this oversight happen?

Mr. LIU CHANGSHOU (Retired Engineer, Blogger): (Through Translator) They started building this project without thinking it through carefully.

LIM: Liu Changshou is a retired engineer who's blogged about the botched decision. He accuses the lower level district government of ulterior motives in lobbying hard for the terminal.

Mr. CHANGSHOU (Through Translator): By building this center, they could attract cruise companies to develop the land. They're using the project to gain all kinds of municipal government support. So what they're doing is developing their own real estate.

LIM: A signing ceremony at the new terminal, presided over by the chairman of Shanghai International Port Group, which oversees all of Shanghai's terminals. He wasn't available for comment. But in an earlier interview with an industry magazine, he said cruise lines were unlikely to send bigger ships to Shanghai anyway as the market is in its infancy here. But major international companies, like Royal Caribbean Cruises, are suffering.

Senior Vice President Michael Bayley said earlier this year one of its ships had to unload passengers at another terminal further out from central Shanghai.

Mr. MICHAEL BAYLEY (Senior Vice President, Royal Caribbean Cruises): It's quite a problem for us. We'd like the bridge lifted by about 50 feet if we could. But the Chinese seem to capable of almost anything in terms construction and engineering, so if they built the Three Gorges Dam, I'm sure they could lift a bridge. Don't you think?

LIM: That, however, isn't in the cards the moment. As China's urban development proceeds at warp speed and with no public consultation, this type of anomaly is not unusual. Many smaller cities have built high-tech development zones which now stand half empty. And this multi-million-dollar terminal now stands as a monument to a system where narrow local interests often dominate over common sense. Louisa Lim, NPR News Shanghai.

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