This was the word used on Thursday throughout the opening ceremony of the redeveloped Deepwater Harbour to describe the monumental achievement of the Gaston Browne-led administration in modernising the country’s half century old main seaport.
First opened in 1968 under the leadership of Father of the Nation, Rt. Hon. Sir Vere Cornwall Bird Sr., the Deepwater Harbour has served the country well.
Initially developed to facilitate the movement of cargo into the country, over the decades, and with the transition of the economy from agriculture to tourism, it also became the main entry point for tourists entering the country by sea.
As Antigua and Barbuda evolved, so too did its need for a port facility that would meet its new and expanding needs, but the prime minister of the day, Gaston Browne said he had a much larger vision for the harbour and its role in the economic development of the nation.
With the launch of the redeveloped Deepwater Harbour Port Facility on Thursday, Antigua and Barbuda claimed its place as the leading and most progressive nation in the OECS.
The modernised port now has the capacity to offer transshipment and centralised shipping services and is the largest cargo port in the OECS.
Speaking at the launch on Thursday, the prime minister also noted that the opening was possible because his government took bold action in reopening the country and restoring normalcy earlier than any other nation in the region.
“My cabinet took the strategic decision to continue the works to ensure that the two projects (the fifth berth and Deepwater Harbour) would have been completed within the timelines, and certainly, within budget. And you will be pleased to know that there have been no cost overruns.
“Already, I’m aware that several shipping lines have been negotiating with the management to provide logistics as well as transshipment services for the subregion and even beyond. And we’re also holding discussions with other destinations to include Panama and even Guatemala to determine whether or not we could have some level of cooperation in order to enhance the level of transshipments that will take place here at our port facility,” said Browne, who has ministerial portfolio responsibility for ports.
The timing of the port’s relaunch is auspicious as already in 2022, revenue generated at the facility has surpassed its last successful pre-pandemic year.
In 2018, the port generated more than $40 million in revenue. At the end of October this year, the port had outdone itself, reporting $53 million in collected revenue.
It was noted that as the port does not itself offer a specific service beyond the movement and handling of cargo, its financial success provides an accurate gauge of the health of the local economy as its revenue is inexorably linked to the volume of business it conducts, in respect of imports and exports, with the public.
The prime minister also noted while the impressive revenue turnover does not necessarily translate to large profits, the port has recovered from its formerly dire position of being unable to pay its employees on time to now being able to settle outstanding backpay and offer its staff a holiday bonus.
“The port management paid $3.8 million in backpay and they’re now poised to make another payment of $1.2 million in the form of a bonus,” Browne said.
Meanwhile, addressing the gathering, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Antigua Barbuda Port Authority, Senator Mary-Clare Hurst, said the occasion represented a particularly proud moment for her.
“My dad was the minister when the first port was commissioned and today I am honoured to be here as chairman of the Antigua [Barbuda] Port Authority.”
She continued, “The design of the port facility has enabled a remarkable revolution in the quality of the port.
“These changes are manifested in the following areas: infrastructure, multipurpose berth, warehouse development, administrative building, marine operations, terminal operations, port services.”
Hurst also noted that the expanded and improved port will also foster many spin-off benefits for the country including increased economic activity and job creation.
Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, Brian Stuart-Young, also offered remarks in which he underscored the careful thought and negotiation that went into the planning of the port.
“It took the Ministry of Finance, the port leadership and accountants and my office many, many months of negotiations with China’s Ex-Im 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 back to the table and working again and resubmitting.
“Indeed, the loan was originally considered to be for both the commercial side…and the cruise tourism services, but it was the prudent decision of Prime Minister Browne that it should be reduced to only the commercial side of the port. He was not inclined to take on the larger debt and was of the view that government would seek alternative arrangements for cruise tourism.”
The port project was completed with the support of the government of the People’s Republic of China and was financed through a concessionary 2 percent loan made available from The Export-Import Bank of China.
It was constructed by China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation which has been in operation in Antigua and Barbuda for 18 years and is behind other major development projects including the new terminal at the V. C. Bird International Airport and Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium.