• Nassau harbour breakwater repairs now ‘imperative’
• Container port chief: Needs to be high-priority item
• Woes will impact Nassau Cruise Port, The Pointe
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Nassau Container Port’s top executive yesterday called for long-needed repairs to the harbour’s breakwaters to become a high-priority item given the “grave bearing” for shipping safety.
Dion Bethell, Arawak Port Development Company’s (APD) president and chief financial officer, told Tribune Business that it planned to “resubmit” to the Government a shortlist of two firms that could examine the extent of the breakwaters’ erosion and determine the multi-million repair/replacement costs.
Speaking after the BISX-listed port owner/operator said action was “imperative” in its just-released annual report, Mr Bethell explained that the Nassau harbour safeguards - which have been in place since Majority Rule some 54 years ago - are “no longer able to absorb the energy from the ocean” especially at high tide or during rough weather.
This impacts “the channel” cargo vessels use to access Nassau’s major commercial shipping port, and complicates the work of APD staff, service providers and ship’s crew in unloading and working on the boat.
Mr Bethell said the “roll”, or pitch, of cargo vessels in such circumstances can be between “six to ten feet up and down”, which is “very unforgiving” on APD’s cranes and other equipment and results in significant wear and tear.
While vessels can still safely enter and exit the Arawak Cay-based port, he added that APD “won’t compromise” on safety. And Mr Bethell said the cargo port operator is not the only major entity impacted by the breakwater deterioration, adding that both the new $250m Nassau Cruise Port and The Pointe will feel the lack of protection as well.
APD, in its 2021 annual report to shareholders, said: “APD will continue to work with the Government to develop a plan for the restoration of the breakwater at the entrance of the Nassau Harbour and bordering Nassau Container Port, which government will support.
“Clearly visible, erosion of shorelines and beaches in the vicinity of Nassau Container Port has continued and will impact a major amenity of shoreline hotels such as The Pointe. For APD, the repair has become an imperative because the disappearing breakwater will have grave bearing on the safety and efficiency of ships docking at the Nassau Container Port and Nassau Cruise Port.
“As noted in our 2020 annual report, APD has done major due diligence. We 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.”
Explaining where the issue stands now, Mr Bethell said APD is planning to resubmit the two companies’ names to the Davis administration for its consideration given that its predecessor failed to decide which should perform the breakwater assessment. This study, he added, was needed to determine a cost that is likely to extend into millions of dollars.
“We had put to the Government an option for consideration for two entities to provide an assessment,” he told Tribune Business. “No final commitment was made by the Government as to which one, of the two we put forward, they would like us to move ahead with.
“That was prior to the change in administrations. Subsequent to the change in administration we are now going to resend and resubmit it to the Government for it to determine who would be the perfect service provider.”
Junkanoo Beach, and the area in close proximity to The Pointe, had previously been selected as one of the sites to benefit from a $35m Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) loan designed to enhance coastal zone management and related infrastructure, and make it more resilient to climate change impacts.
Mr Bethell said that while it may be possible to access some of that financing for breakwater repairs, only the eastern one was included in that facility. This leaves the western breakwater, thought to have suffered the greater deterioration, outside the $35m loan’s remit.
Acknowledging that it has yet to be determined who will pay for the repairs, whether it is APD or the Government by themselves, in a joint venture arrangement or tie-up with other private sector partners to share the cost burden, the Arawak Port chief gave an example of how disruptive the eroding protection could be to vessel operations.
“If you take earlier this week as an example, we had some challenges in the channel with the swell,” Mr Bethell told this newspaper. “The breakwater is not absorbing the energy from the ocean in the channel and that made it difficult for us to work on the vessel.
“The roll of the vessel was six feet to 10 feet up and down. What happens is that ends up being very unforgiving on the equipment. We are trusting that this will come to the forefront at the earliest opportunity, especially as the construction development at Prince George Wharf continues to the forecast completion in calendar year 2022.
“It also impacts the investment at The Pointe, and we hope that the Government would certainly take a look at the much-needed repairs to the breakwater.” With the issue impacting assets that are critical to the Bahamian economy’s well-being, it cannot be ignored for much longer.
Some 90 percent of cargo imported to New Providence is cleared through the Nassau Container Port, while over 3.5m cruise passengers passed through Prince George Wharf in pre-COVID times, making them vital to the post-COVID recovery.
“We’re still able to berth vessels,” Mr Bethell said. “We have much more of a challenge at high tide. It delays the vessel’s operations significantly, but we’re still able to get vessels in and out safely. We won’t compromise on safety in trying to get it out quickly, but that is an additional cost and disrupts business.”
The APD chief, meanwhile, predicted that Bahamians would face reduced living standards and disposable incomes in 2022 due to the impact of inflation and price rises imported from outside.
Warning that salaries and incomes will not match these increases, he added that global supply chain disruptions are already driving increased food and building material price hikes.
Mr Bethell, though, said he was “very confident” that APD’s container throughput volumes will rapidly return to pre-COVID levels in the 2022 first quarter. “We are approaching very quickly the pre-COVID levels,” he added, “and if these trends continue the expectation is that as long as we maintain some reasonable control of COVID we will be able to see the emergence of pre-COVID volumes in early 2022.”