Antigua and Barbuda Port Authority – A Digital Port of Call

The Antigua and Barbuda Port Authority has been in operation for nearly 50 years, but they’re preparing for the wave of the future.

The Antigua and Barbuda Port Authority was established in 1972 and is responsible for the management of all the harbours and ports in Antigua and Barbuda.

“We have responsibility for the management of all port and cargo operations, and the management of all marine traffic,” says Darwin Telemaque, CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Port authority. “The Port Authority is responsible for managing most of the imports into the country.”

It’s hard to overstate how vital the Port Authority’s work is to Antigua and Barbuda.

We’re the only port on the island and so that puts us into a rather unique position from a national perspective. There are no competing elements, and we have to provide all the services ourselves,” Telemaque explains. “However, while we’re unique we still have to ensure we maintain our competitive edge. We recognise that while we may not necessarily have any competition, we have to find space within the context of the economic and social realities of Antigua to build out and improve our customers’ experience.”

A key part of the Port Authority’s work is to manifest relationships with ship operators, be they oil tankers, cruise ships, container vessels, yachts or other pleasure craft.

“Our mission is to ensure they’re met with high-quality service. We recognise the ships can go nowhere else, but we don’t want that to be the basis for our business,” Telemaque says. “So we stay in line with the best possible international standards. We have to ensure the users of the port, whether they are commercial clients or our own citizens, are receiving care of a high standard. We want the public’s experience to be a positive one.”

Driven by Quality

The Port Authority’s mission is not driven by external competitive forces, but the desire to be efficient and productive, delivering services that provide economic and social enhancement for Antigua and Barbuda’s people through social transformation.

That said, while the Port Authority has no competitors on its home turf, there are many unique advantages they have over their counterparts elsewhere in the region.

“We have a major advantage over other Caribbean ports in that we have a lot of land space, allowing us to engage in a huge port redevelopment plan,” Telemaque tells us. “The port has two distinct features, a container terminal exclusively for container traffic, and a separated warehouse and transit station outside of the port area.”

Most Caribbean ports were built in the 1960s, with cargo handled through a warehouse situated at the centre of the facility. Antigua and Barbuda is the first port in the region to have a dedicated container terminal to allow for better container traffic leading to a more attractive position for ships and cargo companies looking for areas to conduct their business.

“Just using a warehouse has never been an efficient system, so we’re going to be the first to say we have a dedicated terminal with dedicated trains. It will be quite an advantage. At the same time our berthing area will also expand,” Telemaque says. “We’re unique regionally in that we also have a separate and dedicated cruise terminal. We also have a clear delineation between cruise traffic and cargo traffic. Ports using cargo terminals for cruise traffic can’t bring ships in during the daytime and in Antigua, we can have five full-size cruise ships and three to four full-size cargo ships operating at the same time, which will certainly make a huge difference in what Antigua can offer.”

“Our biggest advantage is space. We’ve not been surrounded by any kind of development. We have a peninsula which is far removed from most of the encumbrance of other markets in the region,” Telemaque points out. “An unencumbered environment means a unique strategic position because if you expand most regional ports you run into issues of settlements, towns, or highways.”

A Port for the Future

However, while the port offers high-quality service and key advantages, there are areas Telemaque is keen to improve.

“The lack of a robust digital platform is a challenge and will continue to be a challenge as we try to integrate our ideas into the first world technology that we in a small port have difficulty affording,” Telemaque admits. “In addition to the challenges inherent in digitalising the environment, most port systems are being built for mega ports, and we don’t have the throughput necessary for the infrastructure to create a robust digital network with low-costing systems.”

This is an issue the Port Authority is working hard to address, however. Talking to Telemaque, it’s clear he’s particularly proud of the work the Port Authority has put into establishing a Maritime Single Window. This system allows all information required by public authorities in connection with the arrival, stay and departure of ships, people and cargo, to be submitted electronically via a single portal, without duplication.

“We’re the only port in the region to have this by the first half of 2019,” Telemaque says. “We’ve worked to put a Maritime Single Window in place through the leadership of the port and the board and cooperation with the country of Norway, the Active Department of Maritime Services and the National Representative on the International Maritime Organisation.”

The system that’s been installed is in-line with recommendations by the IMO’s Facilitation Convention, a treaty to reduce administrative burdens and make shipping and trade by sea more efficient. Having established this in Antigua and Barbuda, Telemaque believes the Port Authority is in a position to offer leadership to ports across the region.

“The interesting thing about the window is that now Antigua has been able to achieve this we now have the source code that will let us extend this new technology to all of the Caribbean countries to ensure other markets can come on board and be part of that,” Telemaque says. “We’re going to see the whole Caribbean equipped with digital Maritime Single Windows. It will all be able to be done digitally and we’re very proud of that.”

The Maritime Single Window is only one example of the large-scale plans Telemaque has for Antigua and Barbuda’s future, however.

“We’re the first port to be redeveloped. We’re very hopeful we can transform that physical construction into a more significant operational, and even psychological change. We don’t just want to have new concrete,” he insists. “We want to have a new mindset and methods of operations. As we explore those options, we want new opportunities to transform the region into a port operation environment.”

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