Antigua inches closer to welcoming world’s largest cruise ships as dredging work continues

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By Orville Williams

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The St John’s Harbour is now capable of accommodating larger vessels than ever before, as the dredging work – toward the ultimate goal of welcoming the mammoth Oasis-class ships – continues in earnest.

That revelation was made yesterday by Information Minister, Melford Nicholas, who told the post-Cabinet media briefing that, “the dredging of the harbour is nearing completion…but early in the new year, in January, there will be a larger-than-previously-received craft that will come here, and it would not have been able to arrive here had the channel not been opened”.

Port officials recently celebrated the completion of the country’s fifth cruise berth, and according to the government, it is likely that an opening ceremony for said berth will take place sometime between December 1-3, when OECS Ministers of Tourism will gather in Antigua to “plan for joint strategies that will benefit the peoples of the sub-region”.

But despite that milestone, the historic arrival of the country’s first Oasis-class vessel – the largest cruise ships in the world – will take a bit longer to materialise, as the harbour is not yet fully prepared to welcome ships of that size.

“We’re still not yet at the stage where we’re going to be able to accommodate the Oasis-class ships, [but] the information and the photos that we’ve seen more recently, is that they’re nearing completion.

“I think that the work is more than 90 percent complete, and the good news is that Blue Ocean, the dredging company, has indicated that they’re now encountering softer material, so hopefully that translates into an accelerated timeline by which the work would be done,” Nicholas said.

Previous reports were that Antigua would welcome the first Oasis-class ship by the end of 2021, but constant delays with the dredging work kept pushing back the prospective date.

It has been explained that, in some areas, the team doing the work encountered hard rock at the sea bed, which made it difficult for the machinery being utilised to perform as usual.

The company doing the work was even forced to acquire a special cutting machine to overcome that challenge, but now it appears the home stretch is within view.

The Information Minister disclosed too that, considering the anticipation for the completion of the dredging work, the government considered investing more resources to speed things up, but ultimately decided against doing so, due to the spending that would be required.

“We would have, a few weeks ago, looked at trying to engage another mining company to work alongside Blue Ocean to complete the dredging in a much faster period, but on a cost benefit assessment, it’s something that we determined was [not feasible].

“So, we have continued with the dredging that is now being completed by Blue Ocean and we anticipate that very early on in the new year the work will be completed. [Then], at some point in time after that, we’ll be able to accommodate the maiden voyage of the Oasis-class ships here in Antigua,” he said.

According to Nicholas, the vessel scheduled to arrive in Antigua in January is the first of its kind for the country, taking into account the size and the capacity of the harbour to accommodate it.

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