Government of Montserrat

Premier’s Port Development Product Launch Feature Address

Today, marks one of the first, breakthrough step towards the fulfillment of a twenty four-year old hope for Montserrat; a protected sea port here in the safe zone.  Yes, the first safe harbour in Montserrat’s history.

Let us first thank God for this breakthrough.

This breakthrough has been made possible through the kind support of the UK, which created the UKCIF fund of £300 million to support development in the Caribbean.  From this £300 million, thanks to former Prime Minister Cameron himself, Montserrat received £14.4 million as a contribution to rebuilding vital infrastructure lost to the volcano. Through the EU, we have been able to apply the equivalent of an additional £7.1 million.  Altogether, that is almost EC$ 74 million.

Also, the CDB has provided a regional base of expertise and excellence to support the project. On the behalf of the people and Government of Montserrat, I express sincerest thanks to all of our development partners for their vital support.

I must say thanks to Hon Minister Lewis, and his dedicated staff at MCWL along with the Hon Financial Secretary and Finance team who have worked hard and tirelessly in leading on this very important project.

Today, we will listen to the technical Consultants, Stantec as they present their thoughts on how best to design a breakwater and berth for Port Little Bay.

Let us pause for a few moments, to reflect on the path that has brought us here today, at the launch ceremony for the Little Bay Port Breakwater and berth project.

In the 2012 Business Case for the redevelopment of Montserrat, DfID admitted that:

“The principal barrier to economic growth and development on the island is poor physical access. This is particularly the case for sea access . . . . Little Bay and Carr’s Bay are the only  developable sites left on the island capable of offering access by sea, providing a base for new [Foreign Direct Investment] in tourism and other sectors, providing new commercial space and civic amenities and housing the critical mass of population and business necessary to stimulate local private sector development . . . . Without the development of Little Bay and Carr’s Bay, improved access, and reduced costs of doing business, Montserrat will remain uncompetitive in attracting [Foreign Direct Investment].”

The port development project is therefore one of the strategic keys for unlocking growth and building Montserrat’s future.

Yes, with this key we will open up the door for local and foreign investment and for self-sustaining, private sector led growth. It will create jobs during the construction phase and it will provide more reliable docking for Cruise ships and for cargo vessels.

Let us not forget that:

“In 2016, [the Montserrat Port Authority] reported that 12% of vessels calling at the Montserrat Port were unable to berth due to rough seas . . . .  out of a total of 478 calls, vessels were unable to berth 58 times.”

Yes, as many as one vessel out of every eight had to turn back. That is not sustainable. We had to fix the problem.

The business case for this project also noted how [t]he transport sector suffered a marked decline since the volcanic activities of the mid-1990s. That’s why a safe harbour “is of vital importance in providing connectivity to the island of Montserrat and for supporting economic activity.”

We were nearly here before, in 2013.

The Government of the day had envisioned a sea port development in Carrs Bay, and it had actually knocked down part of Gun Hill to facilitate the project. Through Halcrow, a design was made and developed, being presented to the public at 60% and 90% points. But, alas, it was very costly and suitable private sector partners were hard to secure. The British Government put on the table an offer of £23 million to go to Little Bay, but at that time it was still hoped that a partner could be found.

In the end, the bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

And so, today, we are here at Little Bay to launch a port development that will be adequate for our needs over the next decade as we accelerate growth and development. Perhaps, at a later date, when we have grown to the point where we need expanded port facilities, Carrs Bay will come back on the table.

Just as, once we have grown enough, a 5,000 foot runway and airport at Thatch Valley can open up ability to land passenger jets. In the meanwhile, let us make a good lunch with the bird we have in the hand.

Having a safe harbor here at Little Bay guarantees safe landing for the Ferry, for tourist ships, for cargo vessels, for yachts, and for fishing vessels.

Our family members and friends will not have to suffer the inconvenience and cost of being forced to stay overnight, sometimes for days till seas settle down so they can take the ferry home.  We will no longer have to watch tourist ships stay just out at sea with hundreds of passengers who would be taken to another neighbouring destination because they cannot land their passengers safely at our port.  Many of the yachts which pass us by for the lack of a calm and safe harbor would now enjoy a great facility to dock at.  Our fishermen will at last have a safe place to moor their small vessels and will no longer have to have their vessels removed from the sea when there is a mere threat of rough seas.  This will help our tourism sector to grow, providing jobs and income for our taxi drivers and tour operators, restaurants, farmers, for all of us.

Just two days ago, on Wednesday afternoon, I placed before the Assembly and the Public, an historic budget. A budget which marks a milestone in the long journey to build strong and sustainable foundations for a better Montserrat.  I stated that given the significance of the transformational projects in the budget, we now stand on the threshold of an era of growth and progress towards a robust future.

Today’s launch of the port project marks one of the first steps towards the fulfillment of the long hoped for transformation dream.  We have had to change our path several times, tacking against the wind as we press on inch by inch towards our destiny.   That is how, today, we are now witnessing the reality of one of Montserrat’s giant steps; a huge step for access, for trade and for tourism.

Permit me to also quote a statement I made to the UN in June last year:

The timely replacement of basic but key transformative infrastructure destroyed by the volcano stands between the People of Montserrat and economic independence.  This in a sense is nothing new.  Montserrat’s plight can best be understood by making reference to what a former Chief Minister of Montserrat said to this committee long before the volcano disaster. Nearly thirty years ago, in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo on July 30, 1990 Chief Minister John Osborne said:

  1. ….most of the people of Montserrat, particularly the young, would like political independence, but were deterred by the lack of a basic infrastructure. With assistance in developing its infrastructure, including a proper airport and a safe harbour, Montserrat could develop a viable economy and opt for independence. The Territory had failed to convince the United Kingdom, however, that such assistance would remove the need for further hand-outs.

The Hon. Mr. John Osborne was right. We needed key infrastructure then – including replacement of a jetty swept away by Hurricane Hugo. We need key infrastructure today. That’s what the sea port development project we launch today is about. It is what the upgrades to our airport mentioned in the Budget are about. It is what the Fibre optic cable project will be about as soon as we choose the winning bid from the four in hand. It is what solar PV developments are about and it will be what development of a geothermal power plant will be about. It is what our new hospital will be about. It is what new housing will be about and it is what upgrading our schools and education system will be about.

Through catalytic projects like the sea port development that we launch today, and through God’s blessings, we will spark interest by local and international investors. Through these, there will be further landside development on these shores all the way to Carrs Bay, and on Potato Hill and all of the hills and lands around little Bay.  New businesses will mean new and lasting jobs.

How will we go forward with this breakthrough port project?

First, through presentations and workshops that have been going on for a few days, we look at preliminary designs, then adjust towards a preferred option. The preferred option will then be fully developed as a technical design, starting in August. Then, once that design is completed and accepted, construction will begin. Construction will take considerable time, over a year. Once it is completed, we will have a completed breakwater with berthing facility.  Of course, even before it is fully completed, the breakwater will provide some protection for vessels in Little Bay.

However, we must always recognise that we are dealing with the sea, which has its own power, its own ways and its own voice; which can force changes to our proposed schedules. That is part of why it is so important that this project is being carried forward by deeply experienced technical experts.

Today’s presentation is an opportunity for us as stakeholders to hear what is being proposed, and to give our constructive inputs. An environmental and social impact assessment has been carried out and proposed designs that were informed by these consultations are now on the table before us. Let us listen as the experts explain what they propose. Let us now contribute our own thoughts and views.  This way the end product will be a product of the People’s wish.

Let us see, how we can work together as a people as we put in place one of the foundation stones for building our future.

Thank you, for your contributions.

May God bless Montserrat.