After an extensive redevelopment and expansion project, the Deep Water Harbour Port has officially opened to receive larger quantities of cargo from across the region.
Four (4) years and US$100 million later, the ribbon cutting to signal the official opening of the modern facility took place in front of hundreds of witnesses on Thursday afternoon.
It is the largest cargo port in the OECS and is pegged to be the main logistics hub and transshipment point for countries in the north eastern Caribbean.
Improvements include the addition of multipurpose berths, new warehouses and administrative buildings, marine operations and port services, and a modern container terminal with a dedicated freight station.
Speaking to the significance of the expansion, port manager Darwin Telemaque said Antigua’s new cargo port has the ability to solve the supply chain and logistic issues in the region, acting as a conduit for maritime trade.
To emphasize the magnitude of the development, he said unlike Antigua and Barbuda, in this cruise winter season there were Caribbean countries that had to turn away vessels because cruise ships occupied their berths.
“The maritime structure and the administration of port development and port management in Antigua has certainly advanced itself to a place where few have yet arrived at,” he said.
No doubt, the port has come a long way from receiving cargo on lighters from Kings Wharf. But its latest achievement was not without challenges.
Li Jian, General Manager of China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) Caribbean Branch Ltd. – the company contracted to reconstruct the harbour – said the Covid-19 pandemic brought about many difficulties.
He said “labourer’s arrangement was getting more difficult, material supply was not timely, the shipping time was longer, labels, shipping, materials and other costs rose sharply.”
“Although we endured huge challenges, with the care and support of the Chinese embassy, with the understanding and trust of the government of Antigua and Barbuda, the port authority, we have overcome these difficulties successfully,” he noted.
Already, discussions are underway with port authorities in Panama and Guatemala to identify areas of possible collaboration with an aim to enhance the level of transshipment through the Deep Water Harbour Port.
“It is one of my most remarkable achievements to date,” declared Mary Clare Hurst, Chair of the Board of Commissioners of the Antigua Port Authority.
Her job was to oversee the multimillion-dollar investment that had been proposed through partnership with the port and the government of Antigua and Barbuda.
Prime minister Gaston Browne has described the venture as “the single largest public sector investment” in the country’s history.
An amount of US$90 million came from the EXIM bank while the remaining US$10 mill was sourced by the government to make up the total US$100 million.
According to Brian Stewart Young, ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, it took two years of “serious negotiation” before the government could secure funding through concessional loan from China’s EXIM Bank.
“It took the Ministry of Finance, the port leadership and accountants and my office many, many months of negotiations with China’s EXIM Bank to arrive at a workable funding arrangement.”
“Nobody tried to offer us this facility, we had to work for it. I remember submitting and having it rejected and going ack to the table and working again and resubmitting,” he said.
The port was first built and dredged half a century ago in 1968 by the then Antigua Labour Party administration.
It’s opening took place days after the opening of the country’s 5th berth at Heritage Quay.
The berth was built primarily to accommodate the Oasis class ships, the largest cruise vessels in the world, capable of carrying over 5,000 passengers and 2,500 crew and requiring a draught of 38 feet.