By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Nassau’s main commercial shipping port is warning that repairs to the harbour’s breakwaters are becoming ever-more urgent with “interruptions” to the unloading of cargo vessels “increasing” in recent months.
Dion Bethell, Arawak Port Development Company’s (APD) president and chief financial officer, told Tribune Business that while services have typically been disrupted twice a year by high seas this has escalated to the point where, over the past four months, cargo operations have been disrupted on eight to ten days.
Given the increasing threat this poses to The Bahamas’ import-driven economy, with 90 percent of international shipping cargo passing through APD’s Arawak Cay facilities, he nevertheless voiced optimism that the project to repair both Nassau harbour breakwaters is moving in “a positive direction” following meetings with Ministry of Works officials and other stakeholders.
“Our other concern, and the new minister of works [Clay Sweeting] had some consultations on this last week, is on repairs to the breakwater,” Mr Bethell told this newspaper. The consultations, which were attended by Ministry of Works officials and the consultant engineers, UK-based Mott McDonald, also involved participation from other stakeholders including Junkanoo Beach vendors.
The Bahamas has received Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) financing for coastal protection and restoration, and the APD chief said “included in that is the repair and restoration of the breakwater at the western end of Paradise Island and the breakwater in front of our facility.
“At the meeting last week we think everything is moving in a positive direction,” Mr Bethell said. “We await patiently to see what the next steps are.” He told Tribune Business, though, that the continued deterioration of the breakwaters - especially the one directly in front of APD’s facilities - is making the need for repairs increasingly urgent.
“It’s reaching that point where, in prior years, where we may have had interruptions in service twice a year with great swells, in recent times, the last four months, we’ve maybe had eight to ten days where it’d made operating and working a vessel extremely difficult,” Mr Bethell explained.
“So much so that, at King tide, with prevailing winds and bad weather, we’ve had to ask some of the vessels to leave the berth until the weather calms down, so it’s increasing.” Mr Bethell said that, based on what was communicated in the recent meeting with Ministry of Works officials, “we remain very hopeful... things will manifest by way of repairs to the breakwaters”.
He added that, besides APD and its facilities, there are other “key national assets and some key investments” affected by the breakwater situation, including the $322.5m Nassau Cruise Port plus The Pointe complex and its Margaritaville resort.
“We have Junkanoo Beach, Long Wharf, where waves erode the coastline there, and we have the Nassau Container Port, which is the gateway for the majority of cargo imported into New Providence,” Mr Bethell told this newspaper. The Ministry of Works could not be reached for comment before press time last night.
The breakwaters, which function as Nassau harbour safeguards have been in place since Majority Rule some 56 years ago but 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. The “roll”, or pitch, of cargo vessels in such circumstances can be between “six to ten feet up and down”, which is 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, APD has previously said it “won’t compromise” on safety. Junkanoo Beach, and the area in close proximity to The Pointe, were already selected as one of the sites to benefit from the $35m IDB loan Mr Bethell referred to in a bid enhance coastal zone management and related infrastructure in the face of climate change impacts.
APD, in its annual report last year, renewed warnings that failure to repair Nassau harbour’s western breakwater could “result in immense damage to, and threaten life”, in the city centre. It added that reversing the continued deterioration of this protective barrier against storm surge and high seas remains on its “front burner” due to the danger posed not just to its own viability but Nassau’s cruise tourism product.
The BISX-listed port owner and operator, repeating an annual call for action that goes back at least five to six years, said in 2022 it had “an obligation” to continue working with the Government in a bid to see repair work begin.
“For the new fiscal year and beyond, the restoration of the Nassau Harbour western breakwater will remain on the front burner for APD, owing to the threat this vital barrier’s ongoing degradation poses to the safety of ships entering the harbour to do business with Nassau Container Port and Nassau Cruise Port,” the Arawak Cay port owner said.
“Furthermore, this situation impacts the efficiency of, and profitability of, both entities as well as that of the tourism/hospitality plant and other coastal business ventures. Moreover, if erosion of this essential barrier continues, as science and observation have shown us, failure to rebuild could result in immense damage to the city itself and threaten life. We take it as an obligation to continue to work with government to see the project launched in 2022-2023.”
Nassau Container Port and its senior executives have constantly urged that repairs to the breakwater be a high-priority item given the potential threat to tourism, the cruise industry and commercial shipping - all three of which are industries that the Bahamian economy and society rely heavily on to provide a lifeline.