St. Maarten back in business, building back better

2018, November 1: Not many Caribbean port managers want to remember the hurricane tragedies of 2017. It remains a year best forgotten. And yet, even as many across the region are still in the throes of repairing, rebuilding and replacing, the Port of St. Maarten has advanced its own recovery.

St. Maarten had become one of the Caribbean’s premiere yachting destinations hosting some of the most exclusive and luxurious vessels in the world. On September 6, 2017, a Category 5 hurricane, named Irma, wreaked havoc. Irma brought maximum sustained winds of more than 185 miles per hour (mph) 297km/h but gusts of 230 mph (370 km/h) along with an 18-foot (5.5 metres) storm surge.

St. Maarten

Less than a year later, St. Maarten is declaring a robust recovery. Cargo terminal facilities at the Dr. A.C. Wathey Cruise and Cargo Facilities are 95% operational. Its cruise business is back in swing. The multi-million dollar yachts have returned to its bays and lagoon. And, over recent months, a number of marinas have been working diligently to further refurbish and enhance their facilities in time for the upcoming 2018-2019 season.

The work attitude adopted by the port community for the recovery effort in St. Maarten was not just to repair the facilities and get them functioning in the shortest possible time but, to use the opportunity provided by adversity to rebuild it better. Indeed, ‘bigger’ and ‘better’ became buzz words for recovery in St. Maarten’s port.

All through this year, Port St. Maarten – the Dr. A.C. Wathey Cruise and Cargo Facility, has been at full throttle in delivering its usual high standard of service, notwithstanding the ravages of Irma. Going the extra mile has apparently been paying dividends for the country and the 13 companies and over 65 employees that comprise the port community.

The operations at Port St. Maarten rest on four pillars: cruise, cargo, yachting and real estate; with revenues derived from real estate ownership, port consultancy as well as deployment of its two mobile harbour cranes. []

Yachting and marinas – outlook bright

2018, November 1: St. Maarten is a haven for yachts of all sizes and classifications. And, the St. Maarten Marine Trades Association says the outlook for the coming yachting season looks bright and the yacht numbers are expected to return to pre-Irma levels

Great Bay, Simpson Bay and the Simpson Bay Lagoon are the main docking and anchorage areas for mega yachts.

The Simpson Bay Lagoon has the main facilities for yachts of all sizes. It is shared by both Dutch St. Maarten and French St. Martin with the Dutch side of the lagoon having the most marinas and a wide range of boat companies and suppliers. The marinas and boat yards include provisioning stores, sail makers, boat builders, haul-out services and chandleries.

Great Bay is where Port St. Maarten is located. Giga yachts and vessels too large to enter the lagoon use the facilities in Great Bay and the windjammer berth next to the cruise facility at the Dr. A.C. Wathey Cruise and Cargo Facility. Giga yachts can also berth alongside the cruise ship pier depending on the cruise schedule.

Fueling services are available to giga yachts at a station located at the windjammer berth. There are fuel storage tanks on the property and larger volumes can be delivered by road tanker. []

Cruise tourism: a remarkable recovery

2018, November 1: In the days immediately following the passage of hurricanes Irma and Maria, preparations to re-start cruise tourism were underway. A strategy of re-establish communication and engagement with cruise line partners and other stakeholders was immediately developed. Destination assessments were carried out to establish the status and readiness of tours, shore excursions, shopping facilities, beaches, and other amenities.

St. Maarten

Tour operators, retailers and other stakeholders worked diligently in an effort to rebuild and recover within the shortest time possible. This allowed the destination to bounce back quickly and ready for the first cruise ship calls. And so, on December 4th, 2017, Port St. Maarten welcomed the first commercial cruise vessel return to the destination signifying that the island was open for business.

The first cruise ships were welcomed back under the banner Re-discover Destination St. Maarten.

Cruise passenger numbers for the first six month of 2018 showed growth of 15% over the projections. More than 733,600 cruise passengers visited the destination between January and June in 230 cruise ship calls. At the end of July, 835,900 cruise passengers had visited the destination in 253 vessel calls. And expectations are for a strong high season, similar to the pre-hurricane numbers of 2017.

Starting in October 2018, St. Maarten will see an increase in the number of European cruise ship calls. Indeed, Port St. Maarten will resume homeporting in December, hosting a high-end boutique cruise line for the upcoming 2018-2019 cruise season.

Port St. Maarten cargo – building back better

2018, November 1: The cargo terminal at Port St. Maarten has grown in recent years, in tandem with demand and customers’ needs. This growth has made the cargo section a sub-hub for regional container transshipment while serving the domestic market.

Work began in mid-July and should be completed by the end of this year. The cost is approximately USD400,000.

Replacing the brick

Post 'Irma' - brick area being replaced with concrete.
Post ‘Irma’ – brick area being replaced with concrete.

This is the beginning of the transition from brick platforms to concrete. The initiative is part of a long-term capital investment strategy to further enhance the port’s operational infrastructure.

The storm surge from hurricane Irma in September 2017 damaged part of the brick platform at the cargo terminal, The port’s management team and the Supervisory Board of Directors took the decision to ‘build back better’ by resurfacing the area with a 30cm. thick concrete slab.

The area being resurfaced is a main transportation lane for container trucks and top-loaders.

St. Maarten – resurfacing works underway.

The resurfacing project is a major investment, necessary because it eliminates certain long-term issues relative to sustainability and resilience. And it will allow the port to remain a competitive transshipment hub in the North Eastern Caribbean.

Cargo operations at Port St. Maarten showed significant increases in the first quarter of 2018, as compared with the corresponding period last year. Imports for the first quarter of this year increased by about 20%. Transshipment cargo also showed a double digit increase over the period. Transshipment cargo continues to bolster the hub function of the port with the Caribbean region and the upward trend is expected to continue.

The double-digit growth has prompted Port St. Maarten’s local business partners and concessionaires (for stevedoring and trucking logistics) to make considerable investments in newer equipment. This will improve efficiency and reduce turnaround time.

Datacentric environment

2018, November 1: Port St. Maarten is also creating a more data centric environment, furthering its build back better mission.

Data is playing an increasingly bigger role in supply management and logistics. The port’s management understands that, in order to remain relevant, able to improve on operational excellence and remain a competitive and successful logistical hub, investments are needed in this area.

Port St. Maarten has been actively exploring big data usage through talks with Portbase Rotterdam and IT Partner about a national port community system that involves data-sharing. The objective is to allow stakeholders to real-time access to information about containers, movements and contents.

Just one year following hurricane devastation and massive storm surge, Port St. Maarten is functioning well and enjoying some upgrading and improvement, even as its key growth indicators for cargo, cruise and yachts continue to encourage.

St. Maarten is back and better. []

Mike Jarrett, Editor-in-chief