By Timothy Roberts
Central and South Abaco MP, James Albury said that Abaco is not taking a “wait and see approach” over further upgrades to its commercial shipping port after narrowly escaping the threat of a US cargo shut-down on July 18.
Mr. Albury, said the averted closure of the Marsh Harbour port’s international freight clearance capabilities had “highlighted the need for some changes in how we operate down there”.
He said that the government is likely to consider a levy on the shipping companies that use the port as one option for financing its consistent maintenance; adding that a private management company and structure similar to the “NAD model” at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) was another alternative.
He said it was “a big relief” to the whole island that the port had remained open to international freight following the mid-July inspection to determine if it was in compliance with international security standards.
Efforts by the Port Department and Abaco’s business/shipping community appear to have succeeded in their last-minute efforts to keep it – and its vital global shipping economic lifeline – open in the aftermath of last week’s assessment.
While it was denied in 2016 by then Port Director, Cyril Roker, this was not the first time the Marsh Harbour port fell under intense scrutiny for similar poor conditions.
Mr. Albury said that the US Coast Guard and International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) would likely release their full inspection report anywhere from 45 days to six months after their visit, but predicted there were unlikely to be “any major surprises” in it.
“Once the official audit is complete, whatever inconsistencies remain at that time will be highlighted and a deadline to rectify them issued. If there is an issue with fencing and security, that will be highlighted and a deadline issued to address that deficiency or you will lose your international clearance.
“Quite frankly, I don’t think there will be any big surprises,” Mr. Albury continued “But I can tell you that the Port Department and local business community certainly aren’t just waiting for that report.
“I don’t think people are going to wait around for the ISPS report. Between the Port Department, the business community, local stakeholders and myself, it’s been a good working relationship to address some of these issues and that will continue. I don’t think it will be a wait and see approach.”
Mr. Albury said plans would likely involve “a very small percentage” fee, such as a facility or international facility charge, being levied on the shipping companies that used the port. “It’s such a small percentage that it will not impact the end user,” he added, pointing out that similar fees were levied at the Nassau Container Port and internationally.
“That’s what’s being prepared,” he said. “If it turns out that’s not the way to proceed or not the best idea there may be room for a private management contract to reduce the Government’s costs and have a private manager like at LPIA.
“That may be getting a little ahead of myself, and it would have to be something that the Government, Port Department and Customs will have to be comfortable with…. [There] has to be some ways and means so that we are not repeatedly finding ourselves in the same situation.
“Whichever way it ends up being there has to be some reliable funding mechanism in place. The current mechanism has some weaknesses that led to this situation, so we have to fill that gap with a facility fee, private management contract or changing the procedures in how we get funding,” he added.
“Whatever the mechanism is, we’re at that bridge now. This has highlighted the need for some changes in how we operate down there.”
Mr. Albury said he hoped to hold another meeting with stakeholders as early as next week, and adding “I’m confident we’ll get to where we need to be. It’s just a matter of focusing efforts. I have no doubt; it’s just there’s some work to get there.”
US Coast Guard officials had warned that cargo trade between Abaco and Florida could be shut down after the Government-owned and managed port failed its ISPS “mock” inspection on June 18, 2019.
The International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code is an amendment to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention (1974/1988) on minimum security arrangements for ships, ports and government agencies.