How would you say the country’s infrastructure and services are being expanded to increase the flow of passengers and commerce?
The maritime sector in Antigua represents the most significant potential for growth within the economy, both in developing the established infrastructure in the cruise and cargo terminals and in developing yachting in smaller marinas and harbours around the island.
From a broader maritime perspective, there are still many other opportunities that exist within the environment. As part of our overall approach, we are trying to ensure that we venture into all the possible areas.
One of the things we also need to recognise while discussing the maritime environment is the significant role that the Antigua Department of Maritime Services (ADMS) plays. It has become one of the world’s best flagstone operations. ADMS has stood out in a global context in becoming an efficient, high-quality institution, and under the leadership of Ambassador Dwight Gardiner has continued to do very well for Antigua.
Within that context, there are still opportunities that we believe exist moving forward. We still have to develop our workforce to become better marine engineers, marine surveyors, captains and more. Despite the hundreds of years we have been here surrounded by water, we are only now beginning to broaden our reach in the maritime sector. For years we have had cruise ships bringing in passengers, but now we want an Antiguan captain bringing them in. We want to have capable and trained marine professionals to service the industry at every level.
We are currently facing some challenges: ships are getting bigger and lines are asking for more space, so infrastructure upstream needs to be looked at. The flow of thousands of passengers into small areas also poses a problem, and in order to deal with particular issues there is a plan to develop a transportation hub or similar.
In terms of the larger vessels, we are dredging the harbour and expanding on the number of berths we have to accommodate them. We are preparing for an emerging dynamic within the cruise and cargo sector, because as ships move to try to accomplish greater economy of scale they will need deeper drafts and wider, stronger berths. Antigua is possibly the most tenacious Caribbean nation in trying to facilitate what is emerging and, to some extent, already upon us. We manage the cargo terminal, and what we see in the cargo terminal is in direct relation to what is happening in the economy. As there are more passengers and ships, we see more imports coming through.
What opportunities exist for private sector players looking to tap into the maritime sector in Antigua?
We are targeting the creation of a significant number of private-public partnerships, where the port itself becomes a regulatory component in the process, empowering the private sector to provide the efficiency and productivity that it has always been known for. We are still in the process of getting the buy-in from the corporate governance structure that runs the port, and we are getting a lot of support for some of these ideas.
What makes Antigua the best port in the region, following having won the prize for such in 2016?
Working in a changing environment in itself is challenging, but the world is changing. Globalisation is happening and we need to accept that. There is that fresh, constant engagement that is necessary, so that as your port progresses you want always to be current. If, tomorrow, we have a world-class vessel willing to come to sit and talk with us, we may not be ready but we have the vision to get there. If that is understood and seen, we have a change. If we are spaced out and unaware, we won’t stand a chance.
We know that we have the right environment and the right mission. In the end, what we have seen on every level – in terms of expenses, technological enhancement, equipment management and training, operations, administration. We have seen huge change, and people are beginning to understand the vision.