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Story and photos by Carlena Knight

It was a day of jubilation at the Deep Water Harbour as the first phase of the port expansion project – which saw the construction of a new ‘roll-on roll-off’ (RORO) ramp – was officially handed over to the people of Antigua and Barbuda.

Yesterday’s historic event was marked with a brief ceremony which saw dignitaries including Antigua Port Authority (APA) Manager, Darwin Telemaque, Chairman of APA’s Board of Commissioners, Senator Mary-Claire Hurst, and representative for Chinese construction firm CCECC, Chen Zhongzheng, in attendance.

The newly constructed ramp is three times the size of the original ramp built in 1967, and is set to facilitate twice the amount of work that can currently be done at the port.

Senator Hurst said “this new addition, alongside the completed overall project, will place the country in a position to be number one” regarding port operations.

Hurst, who gave the feature address at the ceremony, thanked CCECC workers for their efforts in ensuring the ramp was completed, despite challenges.

She revealed that there had been months of frustration and concern amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I have been with you CCECC for six years and sometimes we believed that it would not happen because of different circumstances. It is definitely an honour for us today to be on the port and to realise that we have finished the first phase and that the majority of the other components will be delivered as suggested by next year. I know you will do your best to ensure that this is done,” Hurst said.

Sharing similar sentiments was Port Manager Darwin Telemaque who told Observer of the impact the new ramp would have on the port’s daily operations.

“The last RORO ramp built in the 60s … the shape of it limited a lot of activity. There was some risk involved in how the containers would come up the ramp and turn but now what we have is an environment where ships can be loaded in one line,” he explained.

“You go up the hill and you pack the containers one time, so this improves our efficiency, reduces risk and as such it improves our competitiveness.

“This ramp also allows for multiple berthing of multiple small vessels. We can’t do very large container vessels but we could not have done two operations on the last one, so being able to add two small container vessels here also adds to the competitiveness that we are speaking about.”

He also mentioned the impact the overall completion of the port project will have on the country when it is completed by the end of 2021.

He said Antigua and Barbuda will be one of few countries in the Caribbean which can facilitate cargo vessels and cruise ships at the same time, boosting the country’s brand.

“Ports are constructed to serve specific areas of your economy and so your port facilitates trade, facilitates import and export, it provides various opportunities for various sizes and types of cargo to come in, and so this new port provides Antigua with the opportunity to expand our capacity to receive larger volumes of cargo, larger volumes of goods, and thereby provides us the opportunity to be a leader in terms of managing the trans-shipment, managing fulfillment services, getting involved in regional distribution and getting involved in other kinds of port-related services.

“It speaks volumes because in many countries … they don’t have cruise terminals and that is a significant advantage that the cargo port is going to embark on,” he said.

Telemaque said Antigua would be marketed as a destination where a cargo ship never has to wait.

“You can come in with large loads and we will have space to put it. You can come in at night, you can come in when we have five ships and nothing is going to stop you.

“You don’t have to wait outside an entire day. Those are some of the things that we are pitching to ensure that the word gets out and as such this will be an expansion in Antigua’s role in the Caribbean.”

The next phase of the project will see the addition of an administration building and a new warehouse. These are set to be handed over to port officials within months.

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