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Montserrat – The phoenix rises

In 1995 the island of Montserrat was largely destroyed by a volcanic eruption that made headlines news around the globe. Now, nearly two decades later, it is beginning the process of rebuilding its economy with ambitious plans for a new city and a new port.

Until 1985 the Soufrière Hills volcano, in the south of the island, had been dormant. After it started erupting in 1995 the Georgian-era city of Plymouth was destroyed and two-thirds of the population fled the island.

Though the volcano has been largely quiet since 2010, the whole southern half of the island is still an exclusion zone. Plymouth and its port facilities are unusable and much of the surface is covered by a blanket of volcanic lava.

Montserrat

Montserrat is still home to some 5,000 people, many of who returned to the island after having been evacuated. This figure, however, is in stark contrast to the population of 12,000 before 1995. Following the eruption, the government and business center moved to Brades in the north of the island.

Initially, priority was given to rebuilding the basic infrastructure; but now the island is looking to attract investment to develop a site at Little Bay.

Little Bay, and Carr’s Bay, is a 225 acre site on the north-west tip of the island. The rebuilding plan embraces residential, commercial and marine areas, including a new port facility.

Investment

The port project, to be located at Carr’s Bay slightly to the south of Little Bay, requires an investment of around US$ 150 million while the rest of the project, including the town, a marina, a hotel and other mixed-use facilities, needs US$ 400 million.

With the design of Montserrat’s new port at an advanced stage, attention is now turning to the task of drawing in the investment to make it possible. The port is expected to cost about US$ 96 million and the marina about US$ 50 million.

This project is being led and co-ordinated by the Monsterrat Development Corporation (MDC). The master plan, drawn up by award-winning architects Lane Pettigrew, in 2012, has been approved by the government. It includes a hotel, a range of accommodation from luxury villas to apartments, and various retail and leisure facilities.

The port has been designed to accommodate vessels of up to 300 meters in length, while the marina will accommodate 60 yachts of various sizes. Completion of the port and marina will transform access to Montserrat for leisure, business and tourism. Ferries, too, will be able to dock reliably and run more frequently from Antigua.

In addition to cruise and ferry berths, the new port will also incorporate facilities for cargo vessels, a fuel berth, and a 105 meter megyacht berth.

Objective

The MDC’s objective is to coordinate the promotion of foreign direct investment, implement a strategy for private sector development and lead the development of the Little Bay Project. More specifically, the Trade and Investment Promotion Division looks after investment marketing and handles investment inquiries, provides business development services to the local private sector and identifies and tests new project and business opportunities.

An MDC spokesperson said: “At present MDC is working to source investment for these opportunities inclusive of the port. We have been in talks with a number of potential investors and hope in the near future to determine the best viable option. 

“Montserrat is currently in a unique position to rebuild a new capital city and ensure it’s done well. Although investment from outside is important we have to ensure their ideas correlate with the beauty that is Montserrat and we are able to maintain the positive aspects that very few can boast.”

Talks

The MDC is already in talks with commercial port operators about public-private partnerships with the Government of Montserrat to build and operate the new port. Discussions are going on with cruise ship operators, too, about including Montserrat in their itineraries with a focus on luxury, low volume operations.

But first, investment is needed. Montserrat is talking to many potential investors, including those, mainly from the Middle East and China, who have already invested in other parts of the Caribbean. China alone is investing huge amounts in a multitude of port and waterside developments across the region.

What will Montserrat be able to offer the tourist, when over half its surface area is out of bounds to visitors? While the volcano has kept people away for nearly 20 years, it may also serve as an attraction. The Pompeii-style southern half does have a certain morbid attraction, but there is certainly much more of interest on the island.

In its heyday the island was self-supporting, with an economy based on tourism, light manufacture, agriculture and medical education. By 2020 the island hopes to return to a state of self-sufficiency and the Little Bay development is a major part of that progress.