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St John's, Antigua

St John’s project benefits cruise sector

The tourism sector in Antigua & Barbuda is set to receive a boost from higher numbers of cruise visitors as a result of recent improvements to the Port of St John’s. But the original vision of a large-scale port redevelopment is still in doubt owing to limited foreign funding.

Significant progress has been made in the port development project at St John’s, Antigua, since the topic was last examined by Caribbean Maritime in May 2015.

However, the project appears to have been downscaled from the original concept of a major redevelopment involving the relocation of cargo facilities and the creation of an Economic Free Zone. Currently, the main beneficiary is the cruise sector.

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In January 2015 the Antigua Port Authority signed a financing agreement with China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) to begin maintenance dredging of St John’s harbor. This work was then undertaken by Trinidad-based ANSA Technologies and in conjunction with Dutch firm Boskalis and fellow RS Hydrographic Services, also of Trinidad.

There was also an agreement between the Chinese government, the Antigua & Barbuda government and CCECC to provide more than US$ 200 million for the port redevelopment project, including a new cruise berth as well as cargo and logistics facilities. But this funding has now been downscaled (see panel story).

If the scheme were carried through to completion, it would be the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken in Antigua. It would involve a redevelopment of the existing port infrastructure as well as new initiatives to promote container transshipment.

The government’s most important partners in its efforts to achieve the full-scale port development are CCECC, BEA Contractors, Meridian Dredging, shipping lines and the private sector of Antigua & Barbuda.

According to local industry sources contacted by Caribbean Maritime, the timetable for the scheme could be about two years. So completion might be expected in 2019, but the government remains tight-lipped about confirming such a date.

Cruise sector

So far, the port development project appears to have benefitted primarily the cruise sector. The government and its partners are working with cruise operators to build long-term relationships. The goal is to provide cruise passengers with an enhanced visitor experience and to enable the larger cruise ships now coming into service to be accommodated in the Port of St John’s. At the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association Cruise Conference & Trade Show in Puerto Rico in September last year, the Antigua & Barbuda delegation presented a master plan for transforming the nation’s cruise tourism sector. It showed details of the already commenced construction as well as plans to build two additional berths to accommodate the largest ships currently in operation, and a passenger terminal to support home-porting.

Additional dredging will be carried out in the turning basin and the harbor approach channel. The delegation was led by the Hon. Asot Michael, Minister of Tourism, Economic Development, Investment & Energy.

Future phases of the project are expected to include environmentally friendly landside public spaces and 130,000 sq ft of retail space to accommodate high-end shops as well as a light railway to transport cruise passengers between the two hubs at the northern and southern ends of the harbor.

Architectural plans for the new landside facilities include colonial-style facades to bring back the charm and character of old St John’s, which is regarded as a major attraction for cruise passengers.


During the conference, members of the FCCA Operations Committee were told about the new bunkering services now offered by the Antigua & Barbuda government via West Indies Oil Company (WIOC) and Shell, the region’s foremost bunkering company. This first-of-its-kind offering in Antigua will allow cruise ships to refuel at any pier while berthed in the Port of St John’s. The WIOC facility has 1.5 million barrels of storage capacity, so Antigua can offer this bunkering service to its cruise line partners at very competitive prices.

This facility is regarded as an added incentive for cruise lines to call Antigua and help the destination regain its former status as a key port of call on Caribbean cruise itineraries. Royal Caribbean’s ‘Adventure of the Seas’ is among cruise ships that have already made use of the new bunkering services.
Cruise executives praised the Antigua & Barbuda government for delivering on a promise made just over a year previously. The Antigua & Barbuda government believes it has regained the attention of the cruise industry leadership and is well on the way to achieving ‘marquee’ destination status in keeping with its vision for the industry.

At the Puerto Rico conference, Minister Michael told delegates: “Antigua & Barbuda has made tremendous progress in just two short years in delivering on its promise to its cruise line partners and local industry stakeholders. We have delivered on our promise to dredge the harbor, to extend the Heritage Quay pier and to provide fuel bunkering as promised. We have clearly demonstrated that we are an action government, that we understand and care about the cruise business and will do whatever is necessary to grow the sector for all our stakeholders and most importantly for improving the incomes of the people of Antigua & Barbuda.”

Total passenger numbers are expected to be around 237,000 this season compared with 213,000 last season.

Meanwhile, Princess Cruise Lines has confirmed that, due to the planned improvements, Antigua will be included in a new seven-day cruise from Fort Lauderdale to begin in 2018/19 which will be calling all year round.

New cruise pier in service

The newly constructed Heritage Quay Cruise Pier entered service in December with the inaugural docking of ‘Anthem of the Seas’ – the largest ship ever to dock in Antigua.

The Caribbean contractor Meridian Construction Ltd was engaged by St John’s Development Corporation to construct the new pier. Working in partnership with BEA Architects, the company signed the design and build contract last April and delivered Phase 1 of the project within budget and on time.

The pier modifications consisted of constructing a 300 ft long by 38 ft wide pile supported extension at the west end of the pier. In addition, mooring and fender blocks were installed on the north side of the extension and existing pier. Mooring dolphins and access catwalks were also constructed.

Meridian is contracted to undertake the dredging of the turning basin and the dredging and sheet piling of the north berth.


Project to be downscaled

According to industry sources, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) has come through for the Antigua government and has now approved funding. However, the proposed project will be downscaled. Owing to the amount of funds now available from CCECC, the project will be downscaled from the original figure of US$ 200 million to approximately US$ 86 million taking into account the rate of exchange.

It is understood the funding will be phased, with US$ 30 million to be provided in the first phase, then a further US$ 30 million by the end of next year, then the government will be looking for another US$ 40 million from private sector investments.