TURKS AND CAICOS: Major upgrading at Providenciales

2014 November: Providenciales, tourist capital and the busiest port in of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), is undergoing major upgrading this year. The Ports Authority of the Turks and Caicos Islands (PATCI) is carrying out major dredging of the turning basin at South Dock. A gradual build-up of sand has been making entry to the port difficult and the PATCI has decided to treat this project as a priority.

Providenciales receives fairly frequent, almost daily, calls from a number of lines including Tropical and Seacor and accommodates a number of smaller vessels from the Dominican Republic and Haiti. This traffic demands that the PATCI moves urgently to ensure safe and uninterrupted movement of vessels in and out of the port.

Security at South Dock is also getting a boost with the re-installation of closed circuit television (CCTV). The project will bring the port in line with the International Maritime Organization’s International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) requirements regarding port facility security plans. The system provides time lapse recordings of essential areas of the port, allowing critical information gathered over a period of time to be retrieved and reviewed.

The port authority is also installing a back-up electrical generator. This redundant system will ensure continuity of port operations, particularly during national disasters or extended power outage.

One lesson learnt at the port after a recent hurricane is: it is imperative to maintain continued port operations to allow for delivery of bulk cargo, as it ensures the unencumbered delivery of fuel for use in essential operations (vehicles, heavy equipment etc.) In addition, a fully redundant system for electrical generation at the  port ensures delivery of fresh food supplies to the population. Back-up power supply also provides a means of communication and facilitates search and rescue operations with vessels at sea. The PATCI is particularly mindful of the importance of this latter point for saving of lives after a disaster.

The port authority has also been refurbishing and upgrading the country’s extensive national navigation lighting system on the islands of Grand Turk and South Caicos. Similar work is being carried out on day markers throughout the archipelago.

Ferry service upgrade

During the current fiscal year, the PATCI will make moves to facilitate operations

of a dedicated ferry service. This service forms part of of its revenue enhancement programme. Sand encroachment at the channel entrance to Sandy Point of the North Shore has made it increasingly unsafe and inefficient for the ferry to enter North Caicos via this route. This problem is to be addressed shortly. The alternative route is through the deep water channel between Dellis Cay and Parrot Cay up to North Caicos. The Bellefield Landing site, at present undeveloped, has potential as a suitable area to build a dedicated ferry terminal and it is understood that this is being considered.

Although there are many boats connecting Providenciales and North Caicos, the initial ferry service has been in operation for approximately eight years; four years under the present owners/management team.

In 2007, a purpose built ferry was introduced. A X-Craft built in Florida, with a 42-foot aluminum hull, this vessel was initially outfitted with twin outboards. In 2011, the new management decided to fit three 250-hp engines so as to reduce maintenance, increase engine life and lower fuel consumption. The ferry is registered and certified for 42 passengers. Recently, a 50 passenger, diesel-powered vessel with jet drives allowing for greater cargo capacity between Provo and South Caicos was acquired.

Caribbean Cruisin operates the ferry with a two-man crew, a captain and 1st mate. However, on trips carrying heavy cargo loads, an additional staff member is added to the team.

Although it is difficult to say precisely what the ridership is on the ferry, it is estimated that it is presently in the region of 50,000 passengers per annum to or from North Caicos. An increase in ridership is anticipated once marketing and advertising activities are implemented. Growth is also expected from new investment creating more jobs and increasing tourist and local traffic. It is anticipated that an hourly service might be necessary to handle peak demand. Presently, about four of every ten passengers are tourists.

The ferry currently runs scheduled service to South Caicos three times weekly, as well as private charters to both North and South Caicos, as required. The company also offers boat charters to hotels and tourists. Snorkeling, fishing, beach drop offs and private charters are also offered services and jet-ski safaris of varying lengths, with tours of North and onwards to Middle Caicos, are available.

Caribbean Cruisin expects to be offering scheduled ferry service to all the islands in the Turks and Caicos Islands. And long-term planners have not ruled out deployment of a hovercraft to service the shallow water areas. Also being considered are fast, deep-water ferries to service the areas not suitable for the shallow draft vessels presently in use. These vessels could instead be utilized in the Columbus Passage, between Grand Turk and South Caicos.

At this time Caribbean Cruisin remains receptive to the possibility of collaboration with the TCI government to establish dedicated ferry terminals on each of the main islands. It is anticipated that these facilities will be similar to what are expected in an airport environment, with safe drop off /pick up areas, sheltered waiting areas and suitable washroom facilities. []