By NATARIO McKENZIE
and NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Nassau Harbour's deteriorating breakwaters are "no cause for alarm", a senior official said yesterday, even though a Cabinet Minister has described repairs as "an absolutely critical project".
Captain Cyril Roker, the Port Department's controller, downplayed fears raised in a recent Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report that the damaged breakwaters "threaten the Bahamian economy's viability" by impacting the flow of commercial and cruise shipping coming into the Bahamas' capital city. Concerns over the breakwaters were also raised in a Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) report last year, but Captain Roker told Tribune Business: "The breakwater has been like that for years.
"The ships coming into the harbour are not affected. There may be an issue at Arawak Port, but 95 per cent of the time that is not an issue. It is only when we have a cold front; when we have huge swells, they are affected by the breakwater. The breakwater as it is right now was damaged years ago by a hurricane and it was not repaired. It is not affecting the exit and entrance into the harbour."
The CDB report suggested that the Port Department's "financial constraints" were preventing it from carrying out essential $20 million repairs, and recommended that institutional reforms transfer the legal responsibilities for these from the government-run agency to Arawak Port Development Company (APD).The report, entitled 'Transforming the Caribbean port services industry', said such reforms would allow the Nassau Container Port's BISX-listed operator to cease paying port dues to the Port Department.
Captain Roker, however, contradicted the CDB report by saying: "Money was not the issue." He reiterated: "It doesn't affect the transit of the ships. What has been damaged is the eastern breakwater. It can be repaired.
"It has been that way for such a long time that it just became a common practice that persons coming into the harbour would pay attention to that. That issue for us is a non-issue."
Captain Roker's comments appear to place him at odds with Desmond Bannister, minister of works, at least when it comes to the importance of repairing Nassau harbour's breakwaters.
Describing the repairs as "a critical challenge", Mr Bannister told Tribune Business in a recent interview that the Government was aiming to include the work as part of a $35 million Inter-American Development Bank-financed (IDB) project to upgrade the Bahamas' coastal management and infrastructure.
"It's a critical challenge, and the Government is cognisant of it," the Minister revealed. "We are fully committed to ensuring that we get this work done. We are committing to an IDB loan with respect to what needs to be done for the breakwater, the harbour, the whole works. It's part of that loan.
"I can tell you that I have it all on my desk. Everything is set out in the arrangement we've made, and we're confident we can do what we have to do with the funding we have."
Mr Bannister backed the importance attached to the repairs by the IDB and CDB reports, given that the breakwaters impact a harbour that facilitates both the Bahamas' largest cruise port and New Providence's only commercial shipping port.
"It is a critical project for the country," he told Tribune Business. "It's critical for commerce in the Bahamas. It's critical to protect our harbour and city, and it's something the Government is fully committed to. We know the risks, we know the dangers, and are going to make the repairs."
Mr Bannister said he was unable to provide a timeline for when the project would start, and how long it would take to complete. But he reiterated: "It's critical to the Government, absolutely critical. We're not going to overlook it all. We're not going to sit on it."
The Minister's concern and focus likely stems from the fact it was Ministry of Works personnel who told IDB representatives about the urgency and importance of repairing Nassau Harbour's breakwaters.
An economic analysis, accompanying the $35 million IDB project, warned that the harbour's deteriorating breakwaters were affecting the flow of ships to both Prince George Wharf and Arawak Cay.
It added that Ministry of Works personnel had described the breakwaters' repair as "a top project priority", given the potential impact to the Bahamas' main cruise passenger gateway and the sole entry point to New Providence for commercial goods.
"From the perspective of stakeholders at the Ministry of Works and Urban Development (MOWUD), rehabilitation of breakwater infrastructure for the Port of Nassau and cruise terminal is a top project priority," the report by Dr Craig Landry, a natural resource economist at the University of Georgia, revealed.
"The eastern breakwater is currently in a heavily degraded state, and the western breakwater has several breaches, complicating navigability of cruise ships and commercial freighters. By limiting the flow of imports and exports, and inhibiting tourism arrivals, this situation threatens the viability of the Bahamian economy."
But Captain Roker told Tribune Business: "Even with the swells, vessels are able to dock at Arawak Cay. Does the breakwater need repair? Not the western wall, but the eastern wall,"
"Is that a cause of concern that we should be spending money on that? Not at this time. We have had many storms since that. It was damaged back in the 80s or early 90s. If there are ships that can't come to Prince George Dock, it has to be under serious conditions where hurricane force winds or tropical force winds are imminent. We don't see it as being a cause for alarm. Ships have been been coming in for years unaffected."
Yet Dr Landry's study further reinforced the critical importance of enhancing the Port of Nassau's infrastructure, pointing out that sea arrivals accounted for 77.2 per cent of the Bahamas' 6.11 million visitors in 2015, with some 47.8 per cent coming through Prince George Wharf.
"Stakeholders at the Ministry of Works indicate that maintenance of navigation infrastructure at the port and cruise terminal in Nassau are critical for maintaining tourism and commodity flows," the IDB economic analysis reiterated.
"The breakwaters, in particular, are of primary importance for viability of navigation within the harbour, but they are currently in very poor shape, with numerous breaches in the eastern section and weaknesses in the western section. Investments in coastal infrastructure can include upgrading and augmenting the current breakwaters to provide for enhanced serviceability and sustainability for the Port of Nassau and cruise terminal."