The long-awaited completion of the US$30 million fifth cruise berth – set to attract the world’s largest passenger ships to Antigua and Barbuda – added a sanguine note to the otherwise languid tourism industry yesterday.
Global Ports Holding (GPH) bosses said they were “thrilled” to have been able to finalise the much heralded project on time despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hopes are high that the port, which usually welcomes more than 800,000 passengers each year, will bolster the country’s status as a prime cruise destination and propel its annual visitor numbers into seven digits.
The new pier was part of a US$80 million agreement signed in 2019 between GPH and the government to redevelop the cruise complex. It will also see new shopping and restaurant facilities, plus an additional 50,000 square feet of commercial space available for lease.
GPH has also fulfilled its promise to repay US$21 million owed by the government for a previous loan to build the Nevis Street Pier.
“Our construction team, port employees, and other partners worked tirelessly to ensure that we remained on schedule and finished the job. We are very excited about the results,” said Dona Regis-Prosper, general manager of Antigua Cruise Port.
GPH chairman Mehmet Kutman said completing the pier had been a “huge priority”.
“As we expand our presence across the Caribbean, it is of the utmost importance that we follow through on our commitments to the destinations we serve,” Kutman said.
Regis-Prosper said the fifth berth was now ready to receive the vast 16-deck Oasis-class ships, which are capable of carrying more than 5,400 passengers. Dredging work, being undertaken by the government, is still ongoing.
Meanwhile, interest in the destination remains high, she said. But cruise ships are still unlikely to be seen in St John’s until at least autumn. Industry chiefs had initially hoped they would return by the spring.
“We are getting lots of requests and are now looking at the fourth quarter of the year to see them here,” Regis-Prosper explained.
“Cruise lines are being very cautious. They are due back on the water in the summer months but will be staying closer to the US mainland initially, for test cruises and shorter voyages.”
The sector, which adds millions of dollars into Antigua and Barbuda’s coffers each year, has been on ice since March last year due to the coronavirus.
“Now that the cruise lines are aware that there is more berth space in Antigua, we are receiving more bookings from cruise lines that want to offer itineraries that include our destination,” Regis-Prosper continued.
“Based on our current projections, we estimate that some 285,000 passengers could visit Antigua between October and December of 2021, depending on when cruising resumes.”
Antigua Cruise Port is now working alongside government to develop new health protocols.
“We want everyone to know that our port and our destination are safe to visit based on the highest global standards of cleanliness and Covid-19 precautions.” Regis-Prosper said.
“We have also commenced discussions with cruise lines that have not historically called on Antigua but are interested in coming here based on what we have created and on our plans for further redevelopment of the cruise complex,” she added.