By NEIL HARTNELL
Nassau Harbour's deteriorating breakwaters should be "top of the pile" in the Government's priorities, a port chief argued yesterday, given the threat to 90 per cent of the city's imports.
Michael Maura, Arawak Port Development Company's (APD) chief executive, yesterday told Tribune Business that the multiple breaches in the harbour's defences were already impacting the loading/unloading of ships at the Nassau Container Port when storms blew from the north-east.
Contradicting assertions by Captain Cyril Roker that the breakwater breaches were "a non-issue" and "no cause for alarm", Mr Maura said BISX-listed APD had been urging the Government to make the necessary repairs - and address "a major concern" - for the past three years. He added that Captain Roker, in a Tribune Business interview earlier this week, appeared to be referring solely to the cruise ship industry and Prince George Wharf. Mr Maura said the cruise ships enjoyed greater protection from both Paradise Island and their size, unlike the smaller cargo vessels that dock at an Arawak Cay facility totally exposed to the breakwater breaches.
"The concern I have with the Controller's comments, as quoted, is that Captain Roker was speaking about cruise operations, but you're dealing with ships 11,000 feet long and protected by Paradise Island," the APD chief executive told Tribune Business.
"The impact to our economy is far greater at the Container Port. Ninety per cent of the goods passing into our economy come through our gateway. The impact these breakwaters have is far greater from a cargo perspective than a cruise perspective. Every single time we have a bad storm there is a consequence for vessel operations."
Mr Maura said his main concern was the lack of visible movement by the Government to effect the necessary repairs, coupled with the fact that the multiple breakwater breaches are likely to get worse rather than better - especially with the increased severity and frequency of hurricanes.
"I think it has to be top of the pile," he replied, when asked by Tribune Business where the breakwater repairs should lie in the Government's priority list. "Every day they wait our risk increases."
Emphasising that it was not a 'quick fix', Mr Maura added: "When we have a significant problem, it's not something we can remedy over the course of one or two weeks. Once we have a major issue it will only get worse from there, which is why we have to keep this at the top of the pile and respectfully ask the Government to help.
"Yes, the breakwater is a major concern for the nation's largest and most significant port - the Nassau Container Port. There are significant breaches in the breakwater along the portion which runs parallel to the port berth, and also the western end of Paradise Island.
"For the past three years APD has expressed its concern and the need that the Government address this. It both disrupts vessel operations, and also in extreme circumstances prevents vessel operations altogether. In addition, the failure of the breakwater is eroding the beach along Junkanoo Beach and also results in unsafe hazards for swimmers."
Mr Maura showed Tribune Business an aerial photograph (shown here on Page 1B) that details both the breaches and the way in which they impact both the Nassau Container Port (NCP) and nearby Junkanoo Beach.
The two large arrows at the top of the picture demonstrate the impact of large swells entering the Harbour through the more than 100-foot breach in the breakwater at the western end of Paradise Island.
"Once we get those winds and swells coming from the north-east, it comes straight on to our bulkhead," Mr Maura explained. "What happens there is that it hits the north-east corner of Arawak Cay, and from there deflects west, running along our bulkhead.
"It causes [docked] ships to move about all over the place, and our cranes trying to unload and re-load them take longer to do that. That increases costs for the vessel operator." Mr Maura said it also caused potential safety issues for both ship's crew and those on land.
The larger arrows also show how the sea swells push deeper into Nassau's harbour and erode Junkanoo Beach, an area popular with both Bahamians and tourists, the latter being mainly cruise ship passengers who use it as a 'beach break' destination.
The area connects downtown Nassau with Arawak Cay and other popular tourist destinations, and Mr Maura said the constant erosion was forcing the Government to incur increased expenditure to maintain the area.
Meanwhile, the smaller arrows in the photo highlight breaches in the breakwater that runs east-to-west directly in front of Arawak Cay. The APD chief executive said "mother nature has punched" ever-wider holes in that breakwater over the past several years, due to the increased severity of storms, in three different places.
"Over time those concrete pylons have been pushed apart, so we have massive gaps in the breakwater," Mr Maura explained. "The sea is moving through those gaps, and ships are moving around all over the place. The impact of the breakwater breaches is very real for container and cargo ships.
"Those holes are getting bigger and bigger every time, and we could get into a position where they [the pylons] end up spilling into the shipping channel. If we end up with a bad storm or hurricane that causes the concrete tripods to spill into the channel, will be able to pick them up? Yes, we will, but since they are interlocked with each other they will not be as effective.
"This is why we're respectfully asking the Government to address this now. It's not them going out in 30 days and providing a remedy. It could take a year. The good news is there is a solution and it can be fixed. There are people that design and build breakwaters that are far more resilient than these ones that were built over 50 years ago, but it needs to be dealt with that issue."
Mr Maura's position aligns with that of Desmond Bannister, minister of works, who told Tribune Business in a recent interview that repairs to the Nassau Harbour breakwaters are a "critical project" that the Government is "fully committed" to addressing.
Mr Bannister said the Government was aiming to include the repairs as part of a $35 million Inter-American Development Bank-financed (IDB) project to upgrade the Bahamas' coastal management and infrastructure, an initiative that also aims to remedy Junkanoo Beach's erosion.
Mr Maura said this was his understanding of the Government's plans, with APD having been invited to a meeting on the IDB-financed project one year ago.
"I'm hearing those conversations are continuing," the APD chief executive said. "I'm hearing there's something going to be presented to Cabinet; I don't know when. I do hearing that things are advancing, at least from a discussion and approval position, in government."
A Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) report last year estimated that the breakwater repairs would cost $20 million, and suggested that the Government transfer responsibility for this to APD in return for the waiver of certain fee/tax payments.
The IDB itself warned in a recent report that the breakwater breaches "threaten the viability of the Bahamian economy", given the potential disruption to cargo imports and exports from Arawak Cay.