By Robert A. Emmanuel
At Antigua and Barbuda’s fifth berth, cruise tourism officials celebrated the arrival and homeporting of the largest cruise vessel to ever visit Antigua and Barbuda—Arvia—on Saturday.
In a close collaboration between the Ministry of Tourism officials, transportation workers, and the Antigua and Barbuda Airport Authority, over 700 visitors arrived at the VC Bird International Airport, and as many visitors roamed the streets of St John’s.
Minister of Tourism, Charles Fernandez, praised the work done to prepare for the day at a ceremony celebrating the achievement.
“I want to congratulate [Global Ports Holding] for putting this together, I also thank the members of the Ministry of Tourism…and the Airport Authority . . . they have done a tremendous job working with us,” he said.
The Excel class cruise ship—the newest vessel in the P&O cruise lines—which is capable of housing 5,200 guests and 1,800 crew members with 15 guest decks will be the first of four large cruise vessels expected to be homeporting on the island throughout the year.
Homeporting refers to when a ship uses a port terminal as its home, regardless of its port of registry.
A temporary processing booth was set up the country’s fifth berth to handle both the embarking and disembarking process.
Minister Fernandez, during the ceremony, said he hoped to have a permanent location for this process in the near future.
“This visit is the first of four [homeporting vessels] for this season, so as we go along, we expect to get better at handling [the operations], and by the next [cruise tourism] season, we hope to be able to have more permanent areas for the passengers to go through.”
Saturdays has been the most active days for airport operations with many passengers arriving on island throughout the day, however, Saturday’s homeporting operation placed more pressure on staff at the VC Bird International Airport.
Antigua and Barbuda Airport Authority CEO, Euletta Francis said the staff “had to do a lot of logistical changes to ensure that this would become possible” but we noted early that we would just make it happen, and my team just made it happen,” she said.
Meanwhile, General Manager of the Antigua Cruise Port, Dona Regis Prosper expressed her excitement, claiming it was like “Christmas, Valentine’s, Easter and my birthday all wrapped in one.”
Executive Chairman of Delisle, Walwyn Co Ltd, the shipping agent for Arvia, Clayton Perkins, remarked that the goal was for Antigua to become a “powerhouse in homeporting in the Caribbean.”
“It will be a cohesive and collective goal that we will all work towards, and I am pleased that our company can be a part of it, and we look forward to continue to partner with the private sector, public sector and the destination as a whole,” Perkins noted.
Captain Paul Brown, who has been calling into Antigua over the last 32 years, spoke about the vast improvements he has seen over the years but also said there was one constant throughout that time.
“I came to Antigua before Heritage Quay was built, before the Nevis Pier, before all the works in the channel and this fifth pier…I have seen many changes…but one thing has always remained constant, and that is the warm welcome we always receive from the people,” Captain Browne explained.
Chief Executive Officer of the Antigua Port Authority, Darwin Telemaque spoke about his excitement over the prospects that Oasis-class ships could be homeporting in the country.
“We have done homeporting before at Heritage Quay on Nevis Street pier — smaller vessels, smaller numbers, nothing this size—but this is on a whole different scale.
“When the real homeporting starts, it is going to lead to a fundamental transformation of the landscape…in the future when it starts to happen the way it should, [visitors] would fly in prior to the vessels arriving, and so they would be in the hotels, in your bars, your restaurants and that spinoff is going to be massive,” he explained.