The airline sector may have suffered and passenger figures at Palma airport fallen sharply this year, but the Port of Palma has experienced a healthy increase in ferry and cruise passengers. President of the Balearic Port Authority, Francesc Triay, reported yesterday that 1.44 million passengers passed through the Port of Palma during the first ten months of the year, 19 per cent up on last year. Triay explained that 57 per cent of the passengers, 819.439 were ferry passengers, 16 per cent more than last year. The remaining, 622.054 passengers were cruise clients, 23 per cent more than January to October last year. Merchant shipping is up by just 1 per cent this year - the port has handled just over two million tonnes of cargo. Triay said the economy is clearly slowing down, merchant shipping and cargo activity is a good indicator, but there has been a substantial increase in passengers. Shipping traffic is up nine per cent this year, he added. The continued increase in passengers and shipping means that further development of the Port of Palma is to be carried out. Triay said that this year, 7.5 million euros has been spent and that a ten million euro investment package is being drawn up for next year. Millions have already been spent on improving facilities and services in the port and work is already under way on new walkways and should be completed by the Spring. Next year, work will start on the new ferry terminal at the commercial docks in front of the Cathedral, providing direct access to the city centre for ferry passengers. The Port Authority is also studying plans to do away with free parking in front of the passenger terminal for all non-ferry clients, but Triay said that no firm decisions have been made. Another project which is still being examined is the underground link between the Via Cintura ring road and the commercial dock for heavy goods vehicles. The tunnel project will form part of the overall redevelopment of the Llevant sea front and is also dependent on how much money the Development Ministry in Madrid is prepared to invest in the project. Triay however believes that the more pressing issue is that of access to the dique del oeste, where the Porto Pi crossroads is far from suitable to handle the heavy traffic. Triay suggested that a tunnel from the military base to the poniente motorway to Andratx is a viable option.