ABTA mission is to oversee the maritime ports in Antigua & Barbuda, you have been at the ABTA since 2014. Could you please tell us about the evolution of the Port Authority in the last few years?
The current port was built in the 60s, it has been used to handle containerization. That has been a high risk and costly environment for us to operate in. In redesigning the port we are now going to have an environment that is relevant, current and that fits for purpose.
Antigua’s main commercial port is Deep Water Harbor in the capital city of St. John’s. Also in St. John’s are the Nevis Street Pier and Heritage Quay – both ports of call for major cruise lines. Other, smaller marine ports include Falmouth Harbor, English Harbor and Jolly Harbor. Please give us an overview of those ports and how can they be improved? What are your objectives for 2020?
We are in charge of all the ports on the island and are currently building a new port in Barbuda. I view it as a key project, not only because of its commercial use but because it represents a lifeline for the Barbudans. After what happened with hurricane Irma, it is important for this port to be able to handle big enough ships so in case of an emergency, Barbudans can leave the island. It will allow Barbudans to be able to trade, import goods once again and it will restore business activity on this small island.
Deep Water Harbor is currently going through a $100 million redevelopment. Please tell us about the importance of this redevelopment and the changes that will be made? What will it mean for trade between A&B and its partners?
This is the largest project ever taken by any government in Antigua history. It is indicative of the desire of the government to extend the maritime port and transportation sector. Antigua is the only Eastern Caribbean state that has decided to redevelop its port infrastructure, since 1960 there has not been a single port redevelopment in the Caribbean. The airport finished its redevelopment in 2015 and it is now time for the port. Antigua will now have the first container port in the Eastern Caribbean.
The airport is both significant, internationally as well as regionally. We have a superior air traffic component compared to other Caribbean countries. When the renovation of the port will be finished, Antigua will become a transport and logistical hub in the region, which is highly impressive for such a small island.
I am responsible for implementing improvements in trade facilitation at port level, enhancing the quality of the services that we deliver, improving efficiency, reducing risks, reducing costs, trying to streamline the process and deliver the benefits of containerization.
The warehouse was previously taking up the best part of the port and the container itself was a warehouse and could not be moved, we tried to figure out how we could improve the process to get quicker deliveries, reduce expenses and benefit the port, customers and the shipping lines. Then the Chinese redevelopment project came along and after sitting with them, we decided that we would be the ones designing the port. We had support from the Port Board, the Chairman; Mr. Gums, Senator Mary-Claire Hurst and the Prime Minister who is also the Minister of the Port Board. The government wants the country to be an economic powerhouse. Antigua & Barbuda is a small country, it cannot dominate in terms of scale but we can deliver when it comes to efficiency of the supply chain and the quality of the service.
We have designed the port separating the containers from the warehouse, meaning we will have a dedicated container operation. The volume of traffic that this warehouse draws into the port has been a risk and it has significantly challenged our efficiency. The idea is to take the warehouse off the terminal, put it on the east side, let the traffic go through the warehouse and create a dedicated container environment. This will allow us to improve our rate of discharge, delivery and services and become the most competitive port in the Caribbean.
We are currently leading the region in terms of our ship to shore crane operations, we can go as high as 28 to 30 moves an hour which surpasses international standards. With the new development, there will be a larger platform to work with, multiple cranes, better freight handling equipment and less distraction. Discharging the ship and delivering the goods to the gate will be significantly enhanced. We hope to lure more service providers to help us facilitate business. We are looking to create transshipment opportunities into small islands around us. We believe our marketing efforts will showcase our quality of service and will contribute towards success by having more ships coming into Antigua.
With global logistics being transformed by digitalization. What steps is ABPA taking to capitalize on changing global logistics patterns? How are you planning to further increase your profits in the years to come?
The industry has shifted away from physical labor to technology and digitalization. We have deliberately waited from rushing into a particular type of digital platform and looking for the one that would fit best. We are looking to integrate digitalization to our project and not the other way around. We know we can follow a container from the port of origin and track it with the bar code until it has been delivered to the port. It means that technology is making digital transfer easier and cheaper.
Antigua is the only Eastern Caribbean Country that currently has a maritime single window; all partners interfacing with a specific ship are on a single window and that increases efficiency. This platform was designed specifically for us. We got in a partnership with the government of Norway and got some help from the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The IMO made it necessary for all port authorities to have a platform where vessels can communicate with them electronically. The government of Norway facilitated the whole process; they built a system and gave it to us free of charge. According to the World
Bank it would have cost us, US$ 50 million. It was a tremendous gift to the people of Antigua and Barbuda from the government of Norway. After seeing the success of the maritime single window, we now want to create a similar system for the public. We already have a digital system and we are looking to integrate a single window into the customs platform.
The third element that we want to put in place is to digitally integrate the physical operations within the entire port facility, all the ships to port, port to agents, agents to clients, truckers and workers. We want to be able to deliver products directly to the customer’s home or place of business.
My motto is to look at all the systems and processes and sees if they can be tweaked or improved without charging an extra cent to our customers. This is how we want to use technology and innovation.
You have given full scholarships to 26 Antiguans to study various maritime disciplines at the Caribbean Maritime University in Jamaica. How important is training for ABPA?
Investing in people, training them, improving the quality of the recruitment, ensuring that the remuneration packages and benefits are attractive and that people are excited to work are key necessities for ports around the world.
One of the main challenges we have faced is that we do have tertiary qualified individuals but we lack of technical people, especially in the marine department where we did not have the appropriate number of pilots, berthing officers, marine engineers, marine transport personnel and marine security personnel.
When I joined the port, a few years ago, a high number of employees had retired or were retiring including the chief pilot. We did not have any qualified and competent replacement for him. To fix the problem we decided to bring him back and we decided to recruit around the state in order to find individuals with the right skill set. With the Ministries of Finance and Education, we agreed that we had to train the personnel and sent them abroad. Investing in those people was the biggest investment we made, it even the US$100 million redevelopment project of the port. Their knowledge will be transferred to a significant amount of employees over time and it will allow the port to follow the current trends in terms of technology and logistics.
Some of your previous experiences include; being a professional cricket player, your banana business in Dominica celebrated as one of the region’s great agribusiness success stories and you have worked as a consultant to the World Bank within the Trade Facilitation program for African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries. What do you feel most proud of in your personal life?
I have a 6-year-old daughter and a 21-year-old son and they are my pride. Cricket made me the person I am today. As a young boy I was forced to be competitive. I learnt the lessons of investment, disappointment, never giving up and trying my hardest just to make the team. It was a very emotional part of my life growing up and I have carried all these skills in my professional life.
Antigua means a lot to me, it is not my country of birth but it is a country that I love. It gave me opportunities that I could not have in Dominica, due to hurricane David, which destroyed the island in 1979. Two years ago when hurricane Maria hit Dominica, I was able to receive my daughter and my wife here; Antigua has rescued my family. I will give my all for the success of this country; a strong Antigua is a strong Dominica.
What is your final message for Miami Herald readers who consider Antigua & Barbuda as a potential investment destination or trading partner?
We want to project Antigua as an investment destination for businesses wanting to expand their presence in the Caribbean. Antigua is located in a strategic position and it is well placed to facilitate outwards growth into nearby islands.
We are going to be the first modern port in the Caribbean, with a fully engaged container terminal operation. Secondly, we are the only port in the eastern Caribbean that has the land space to provide opportunities for warehousing, freight forwarding and distribution fulfillment services and we have the objective of attracting one or two shipping lines in order to create a small hub in the country.
I am also the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) port chairman in which I provide support, strategic and technical development programs for all OECS seaports. One of my mandates is to ensure that we fully implement the free movement of goods regime. The free movement of goods is coming after the free movement of people, which is an interesting fact. Within the OECS we have created a European style arrangement where any OECS country resident can move island, with no restrictions. With the free movement of goods and economic integration, we need to have ports with the capacity to manage domestic, OECS and international freights. We are also going to have a domestic ferry terminal and a dedicated international ferry terminal.