Antigua Partners with EU for Emergency Docking Port

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Antigua Partners with EU for Emergency Docking Port

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Antigua Partners with EU for Emergency Docking Port
By Peter Richards

ST JOHN'S, Nov 4, 2011 (IPS) - The scars on the pilings adjacent to the new Emergency Ferry Docking Facility here are still visible, graphic evidence of the devastation caused by Hurricane Luis when it hit Antigua and Barbuda in 1995.

Just a few miles across the Caribbean Sea that same year, an unprecedented series of eruptions of the Soufriere Volcano in Montserrat inflicted damage that is still affecting the lives of residents of that British Overseas Territory.

"This facility is one of the fruits of the Comprehensive Disaster Management approach that the Caribbean has adopted as part of its efforts to promote truly region-wide cooperation in disaster management," said Ivan Ogando, director general of the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM), at the formal handover of the facility from the European Union, which financed the project, to Antigua and Barbuda earlier this week.

As the Caribbean experiences more frequent extreme weather-related events possibly resulting from climate change, such infrastructure projects will play a key role in boosting the overall disaster preparedness of the region.

"That regional approach to disaster management has been facilitated by the consistent support of the European Union and this ferry docking facility offers concrete proof of that support," Ogando added.

The facility will permit emergency evacuation and the movement of relief supplies in the event of further volcanic eruptions or any other disaster, while also facilitating the seaborne movement of persons and goods between Montserrat and Antigua and Barbuda.

The project had been identified as a priority by CARIFORUM - comprising the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Dominican Republic - and was completed just nine months after the sod-turning ceremony.

It also comes as CARICOM is seeking cheaper modes of transport given the high cost of air travel within the region.

The head of the European Union Delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Ambassador Valeriano Diaz, said the EU has already provided some 283,000 dollars to fund a shipping study within the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) that also includes Antigua and Barbuda and Montserrat.

He said the study contains recommendations relating to the structure, characteristics, routes and appropriate costing of an OECS shipping line.

"We understand that the OECS Secretariat has been exploring the possibility of approaching the EU-ACP's Centre for the Development of Enterprise for funding for a transport plan so as to present a proposal to leaders," Diaz said.

Ambassador Dr. Clarence Henry, trade coordinator and head of Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) implementation for Antigua and Barbuda, told IPS the facility "marks the completion of several years of hard work to justify its importance within the context of emergency evacuation planning as well as placing more focus on trade tourism in the Eastern Caribbean".

As the national authorising officer who serves as the intermediary between the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) member states and the EU, Henry said the importance of the project was underscored by the presence of Montserrat's Premier Reuben Meade and the ambassadors from Belgium, Finland, France, Germany and Spain.

A statement from the EU Delegation in Barbados also noted it was the "first occasion such a gathering of member states representatives, based both outside and within the region, were present for such an event in Antigua and Barbuda".

The CARIFORUM countries had agreed to allocate 1.12 million Euros from the 9th European Development Fund (EDF) resources to fund the design and construction of the facility.

"The project will cement long cooperation arrangements between both Antigua and Barbuda and Montserrat where the dedicated pier will play a critical role in the movement of people and goods thereby contributing to economic sustainability of the British colony," Henry told IPS.

The Trinidad and Tobago government has already signaled plans to establish a fast ferry service between the oil-rich twin island republic and the OECS, with Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar hoping that it "will bring us closer together as we try to improve upon the integration movement".

One foreign company, which the Port of Spain government has not named, has indicated an interest and Persad Bissessar said the ferry plan would particularly assist movement of people, goods and trade.

Diaz said that the Trinidad and Tobago initiative "is long overdue, especially given high travel costs throughout the region.

"And in these tough economic times any effort to provide alternative travel which is affordable even to remote places will be more than welcomed by the Caribbean," he added.

The Antigua and Barbuda prime minister agrees, noting "clearly with our centrality, this pier will be an asset in such a plan" looking further to connecting the French islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana by mid-2012.

"Given the vagaries of the world economic climate and volatility everywhere, it behooves neighbours to cooperate through the sharing of knowledge and expertise," he added.
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