* Breaches 'significant threat' to cruise and commercial shipping
* Alliance formed with harbour pilots to source funds, contractor
* APD alarm reveals nothing done since issue flagged in 2017
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Repairs to Nassau Harbour's "severely damaged" breakwaters are a national "imperative" that cannot be delayed due to the "significant threat" posed to tourism, cruise and commercial shipping.
Arawak Port Development Company (APD), in a stark warning contained in its just-released 2020 annual report, said existing breaches in both breakwaters - one up to 350 feet long - were already impacting its ability to service vessels at the Nassau Container Port as well as the piloting of cruise ships pre-COVID-19.
Targeting a problem that was first flagged three years ago, but about which seemingly nothing has been done, APD said it had formed an alliance with the Nassau Harbour Pilots Association (NHPA) in a bid to source financing and construction services to address the breaches prior to a Hurricane Dorian-style storm hitting Nassau.
The BISX-listed commercial port operator said it had hired two US-based companies to provide proposals for repairing the breakwaters, which guard the entrances to both Nassau Harbour and Arawak Cay, and had received a three-phase road map setting out how this could be achieved.
Dion Bethell, APD's president and chief financial officer, was in a Board meeting when contacted by Tribune Business yesterday and unable to comment on how far the proposals had progressed in winning government support and approval.
However, the company's annual report made clear the extent of the threat it believes is posed to Nassau's tourism product and import trade, with 90 percent of physical goods brought into New Providence coming across the Arawak Cay port.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought forcefully home the potential negative impacts from the interconnections among maritime networks, natural disasters and international politics, and how they can impact port efficiency and profitability," APD said. "Going forward, we must concentrate on building sustainability and resilience.
"In the case of the Bahamas maritime industry, this includes paying urgent attention to repairing of the eastern and western breakwaters at the entrance to Nassau Harbour and Arawak Cay. It must be emphasised at the outset that these severely damaged structures pose a significant threat to our tourism product and negatively impact the flow of commercial and cruise shipping coming into the country’s capital. Given what seems an inevitable progression of mega hurricanes impacting our islands, it is imperative to address the problem."
Recalling the breakwaters' history, APD said they were constructed in the 1960s by the US Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station in an effort that was sponsored by the then-Ministry of Maritime Affairs, as part of a bid to "stabilise" Nassau Harbour's entrance.
The west breakwater, around 3,100 feet long, extends from Silver Cay to the harbour entrance channel while its eastern counterpart is located at the west end of Paradise Island and was around 800 feet long when first built.
"A serious breach occurred in the eastern breakwater, likely created during the 1991 Halloween Storm (also called the ‘No Name’ storm), which originated off the eastern coast of Canada, generating high waves that wreaked havoc along the North American eastern seaboard and affected Bermuda, The Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico," APD added.
"Now approximately 350 feet long, the gap is located near the east breakwater’s shore terminus. The western breakwater has numerous breaches complicating navigability of cargo vessels and cruise ships.
"Several times throughout the year the breakwaters do not provide adequate protection in the channel and turning basin; this interrupts operations at Nassau Container Port and our ability to service vessels," the annual report continued.
"To a great extent, it impacts the harbour pilots’ ability to service incoming cruise ships. We note further that wave penetration into the inadequately-protected harbour has resulted in erosion to Junkanoo Beach and adjacent beaches at Long Wharf, and is believed likely to have an impact on the quality of The Pointe property, marina and beach."
APD's annual report indicates nothing has changed since the late 2017 release of a report by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which warned that "heavily degraded” infrastructure in Nassau harbour is “threatening the Bahamian economy’s viability” by damaging cruise and commercial vessel access.
An economic analysis, accompanying a $35 million IDB-financed project to upgrade the Bahamas’ coastal management and infrastructure, warned then that the harbour’s deteriorating breakwaters are affecting the flow of ships to both Prince George Wharf and Arawak Cay.
It revealed 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 in the shape of the Arawak Cay port.
All this, though, has seemingly yet to translate into action. APD said "mutual concern" over the situation had resulted in its partnership with the harbour pilots' association in an effort to drive repairs, and find the right contractor and financing option.
"Both partners recognise that the rehabilitation and maintenance of the breakwaters fall under the responsibility of the Port Department. We further recognise that there have been underlying constraints inhibiting the Department from ensuring these essential breakwaters are properly maintained," APD said.
"APD engaged two firms widely recognised and respected in marine and industrial construction - Orion Marine Construction and Bermello Ajamil & Partners - to provide proposals for the design of repairs to the breakwater structures located at the Nassau Harbour entrance and adjacent to Arawak Cay.
"The APD/Pilots Association Partnership has now received proposals providing valuable information to support further action from both companies. The bona fides of Orion and Bermello Ajamil & Partners (BA) can be reviewed at their websites."
The proposals call for a three-phase approach to effecting the repairs. No figure has been provided for how much this will cost, although it is likely to run into the millions of dollars. The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) previously suggested the total could amount to $20m.