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St. Maarten

Measurable growth, enhanced potential at St. Maarten


The Port of St. Maarten received its highest number of cruise passengers last year. The small, vibrant Dutch territory had 1.7 million cruise passengers visit its shores and, with plans already taking shape, is expecting to top this number in the years ahead.

This success is not only attributable to geography and location, one port official explained. “Although that helps, it is more the result of a systematic approach and good customer focus by the St. Maarten Harbour Group, which is keen to provide the best facilities in the industry. This is one of the benefits of holding long-term agreements with the major lines.”

St. Maarten was one of the first ports in the Caribbean region to develop a capability to handle the massive Genesis-class cruise ships. Since then it has been attracting a growing number of cargo shipping lines looking for a reliable transhipment sub-hub.

In 2007, with one berth capable of accommodating four cruise ships simultaneously already in operation, the decision was taken to take the port to the next level and a second cruise pier was built. Development of the Dr. A.C. Wathey Cruise & Cargo Facility has been overseen by the St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies (SMHG), a government-owned consortium of 13 companies responsible for part of the maritime operations of the country.

St. Maarten is now one of the few ports in the Caribbean capable of receiving what are currently the world’s largest cruise ships (Genesis class) of over 220,000 gross tons each with a capacity of more than 6,000 passengers and crew.

Pier 1 is 545 metres in length and can accommodate up to four vessels simultaneously. Pier 2, with a length of 445 metres, was opened in 2009 and can accommodate two Genesis-class vessels. It also has two booths for screening passengers. This cannot be done on board because of the large number of passengers. The terminal can handle more than 20,000 passengers in a single day.

Four pillars

Built in an architectural style reminiscent of old Philipsburg, the Village contains duty-free outlets, souvenir shops and market stalls as well as bars and a restaurant. Passengers are welcomed ashore at the Harbour Point Village by the music of steel pans, which set the tone for an enchanting stay on an idyllic tropical island.

The operations of the SMHG are summarised in its literature as the ‘four pillars’ – Cruise, Cargo, Yachting and Real Estate. The group operates and has responsibility for the Dr. A.C. Wathey Cruise & Cargo Facility at Point Blanche, the Harbour Pointe Village, the Captain Hodge Pier in Philipsburg, the fuel station at Great Bay and the Simpson Bay Lagoon Authority, responsible for the Simpson Bay Bridge. Over the past decade the SMHG has invested over US$ 100 million in infrastructure development and equipment acquisition and commissioning.

Development plans include investing in personnel and processes. This is seen as absolutely necessary in order to maintain and improve on current levels of efficiency. Over the past 10 years the SMHG has been transformed into an aggressive, commercially orientated operation. This change in corporate focus was facilitated by a refinancing package of US $150 million by the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten. The new thrust included what has been described as ‘a strong corporate social responsibility programme’ and included investment in St. Maarten as a destination.

Environment protection and green issues are a priority for the Harbour Group and this is reflected in the number of innovative initiatives (including wind and solar power systems) within the port. The group also plays a leading role in the wider community with respect to beautification of the island and in various social development programmes. Putting something back is a key part of its business.

By rejuvenating parts of Philipsburg and giving priority status to environmental concerns, the SMHG has helped to enhance the visitor experience.

Dutch Village

Visitors can look forward to a totally new experience as the result of an innovative move by the Harbour Group to bring a bit of Dutch flavour back to St. Maarten. A common observation from visitors was the lack of a Dutch atmosphere. To put that right, the Harbour Group plans to develop what it has called a Dutch Village. This new attraction will be built next to the cruise ship piers on land reclaimed during construction of the second pier.

While final decisions are still to be taken on the specific amenities and attractions to be included, the intention is to create an area featuring traditional Dutch architectural style and structures such as a windmill and a church. There is also talk of positioning this development alongside an area with a French flavour to represent the dual-nation character of the island. 

The SMHG has helped St. Maarten to maintain a competitive edge in the north-east Caribbean through constant research, strategic planning and collaboration with leading industry players. This enlightened corporate strategy has resulted in measurable growth and enhanced potential. 


A premier yachting destination

St. Maarten, one of the Caribbean’s premier yachting destinations, receives some of the most luxurious vessels afloat.

Simpson Bay Lagoon in the west of the island is one of the finest facilities in the region. The national frontier passes through this lagoon, so one side is Dutch and the other French. The Dutch side includes most of the major marinas and a wide range of service companies and suppliers. 

Yachting is a major growth sector and the Simpson Bay Lagoon Authority Corporation (SLAC) plans to expand this sector. The SLAC is a subsidiary of the St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies with responsibility for the lagoon and the John Sainsborough Lejuez Bridge, which spans the only channel in Dutch St. Maarten between the lagoon and the sea. Yachts up to a maximum beam of 56 ft (17 metres) and a maximum draught of 17.0 ft (5.0 metres) can enter the Simpson Bay Lagoon through the John Sainsborough Lejuez Bridge.

Giga yachts and vessels too large to enter the lagoon can be catered for elsewhere, at designated Windjammer berths beside the cruise facility in Great Bay or alongside the cruise pier, depending on the cruise ship schedule.


Fuelling services are also available to giga yachts in Great Bay. The Port of St. Maarten has worked in partnership with fuel supplier Sol to install a fuelling station at the Windjammer berth. The Harbour Group subsidiary, St. Maarten Harbour Fuelling Company NV, operates this facility and handles all the refuelling operations.

The fuel station, which opened in 2011, was set up specifically to handle giga yachts which are unable to enter the Simpson Bay Lagoon because of depth restrictions. The facility has three 20,000 litre tanks for storage of fuel for delivery at the berths. Larger volumes can be delivered by road tanker. The fuel station is already proving so successful that an upgrade is planned in the near future. In 2011 the port delivered 5 million litres of fuel to mega yachts and giga yachts.

St. Maarten has an active sailing programme all year round organised by the St. Maarten Yacht Club, the principal event being the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, which brings together yachts of all sizes from across the region for a week of competitive racing.

The marine sector accounts for about 33% of the gross domestic product of St. Maarten.