One of the most esteemed 20th Century icons in academia, Dr. William C. DeVane, once observed there are a few things that haven’t changed since the dawn of history, none more significant than the capacity for greatness in man. The capacity for greatness, he said, is a very precious gift, empowering all to become “the master of the event … the changer of the course of history.” In the twin island Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, such a precious gift can be found in the expertise and operational mastery of an air and sea port authority that has not only served to change the course of history for this island nation, but is helping an entire region realize the capacity for a greater economic future.
To the north of the West Indies’ island chain known as the Lesser Antilles, the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis occupies an oceanic expanse where the balmy Caribbean Sea meets the boisterous Atlantic. In addition to being distinguished as the smallest nation in the Americas (in terms of population and land mass), these islands are also regarded as “The Mother Colony of the West Indies” by virtue of being among the very first of Caribbean Islands to be settled by Europeans. However, its history dates back much further than the day of discovery from Christopher Columbus when he bestowed the name of St. Christopher in homage to the patron saint of mariners (Kitts is a common abbreviation for Christopher). The early Kalinago tribes that inhabited here knew the island better as “Liamuiga” which means “fertile land.” The Spanish, the French and English would all capitalize, and occasionally clash, over these assets in the years that followed Columbus’ arrival, all culminating to France ceding the area over to English authorities. As for the fertile land, it ultimately gave rise to one of the most dynamic of ag-based economies, particularly sweetened by the growing of sugar cane.
A three-mile wide channel separates St. Kitts from nearby Nevis, and collectively, these islands are made home by more than 45,000 people. The vast majority of people live on St. Kitts which is comprised by some 168 square-kilometers (Nevis encompasses 96 sq. km.). In the modern era, these two islands joined with Anguilla to achieve autonomy as an associated state. The Anguillians later rebelled against that resolution, separating from the two in 1971. St. Kitts and Nevis went on to gain independence in 1983. This marked a significant turning point in enabling island authorities to take control of their destiny, a move that garners further recognition in that this Federation is the youngest of sovereign states in the Americas.
After achieving independence, the sugar continued to flow from St. Kitts even as tourists began to increasingly flow to the island. Seaport operations were supported by the Basseterre Deep Water Harbour/Cargo Port, administrative offices and a transit shed designed for receiving and storing cargo – all were constructed throughout the 1980s. Improvements were also made in refurbishing the runway at what was then known as the Golden Rock Airport. Today, in honor of the nation’s first Premier, it is called the Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport. For several years, the seaport and airport functioned as two separate entities, but in 1993, it was determined that one authority should be appointed for oversight of both the airport and the Basseterre Cargo Port, thus leading to the creation of the Saint Christopher Air and Sea Ports Authority (SCASPA). Over the years that have followed, SCASPA has repeatedly earned acclaim for operational efficiency, effectiveness and for modeling best practices in its industry. This year, for the fourth time since its inception, SCASPA was presented the highest honors from the Port Management Association of the Caribbean, winning the coveted Novaport Cup, an achievement determined through careful analysis of performance measures which include total cargo volume in and out, total revenue generated, total expenses, net profit and workforce. In accepting the award, SCASPA Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Bass credited the dedicated work of SCASPA’s management and staff. He said the award was a reflection of SCASPA’s commitment to becoming a “profitable, customer-focused organization with a motivated and productive work force,” all dedicated to constant improvement and building “a culture of excellence.”
It is this very excellence which has proven so fundamentally critical to the overall economy of St. Kitts, but to put that in proper context, it is necessary to go back almost ten years ago when the island was dealt a most difficult economic dilemma. In 2005, despite more than 300 years of serving as a primary economic driver for the nation, operations relative to the production of sugar came to a close. To mitigate the certain impact that would be felt from the loss of this revenue, the Government enacted a bold strategy of reinvestment and expansion of infrastructure in order to improve services and better capitalize on opportunities in the tourism sector. Since 2005, more than $150 million has been spent in a range of development initiatives which have effectively empowered SCASPA to become a major influence in St. Kitts as well as the Caribbean Region.
A New Direction
Among the first steps in a new direction for St. Kitts was a major renovation of its airport facilities. Through an investment of some $17 million, the tarmac was expanded to accommodate as many as six-wide-bodied aircraft at any one time. New taxi-ways were constructed and the runway was completely resurfaced. Today, the airport is not only able to service commercial jumbo jets and non-stop jet flights to Canada and the United States, but also handles many regional commuter flights from within the Caribbean. Aviation history was made here when a chartered Sri Lankan Airlines Airbus A340-300 made a flight to St Kitts in 2011, completing what was a nearly 10,000-mile long journey from Colombo, Sri Lanka. Annually, however, this airport now facilitates passage of almost 400,000 travelers.
At around the same time improvements were being made at the airport, sea port operations were also being enhanced. Transshipment services were launched in 2005 through a partnership with Bernuth Lines of Miami who, along with Tropical Shipping, Searboard Marine and Geest, is among the leader of the leading liner services in this area. In establishing St. Kitts as a transshipment center, vessels can unload southbound cargo in a centralized location for onward shipment to other regional destinations like Dominica, Trinidad or Guyana. For operations such as Bernuth, this arrangement enabled its ability to make both shorter and more direct trips from Miami. At the same time, it created benefits for St. Kitts by expanding its cargo handling business and increasing revenues through its collection of port fees. This was one of the early strategic moves implemented by SCASPA to strengthen its financial position.
More recently, SCASPA has advanced other initiatives which further demonstrate the beneficial impact this authority has made on the present economy, and to be sure, that bodes potential for an even greater future.
Working the Plan
Seaport Manager Loui Hendrickson says the mission of SCASPA not only involves a mandate to provide safe and secure air and sea ports services in full compliance with international standards and best practices, but also to support sustainable growth and development in St. Kitts, in such a way, as to exceed customer expectations. As Hendrickson says, “Whatever happens at the ports directly affects the overall economy … we believe that by working closely with the private sector and understanding their needs, we can fulfill our function to encourage and facilitate economic development, which not only supports St. Christopher, but the entire region and the business which operate in the region.”
The fulfilling of SCASPA’s mission is clearly evidenced on several fronts. For example, SCASPA negotiated an agreement with a company known as Veling Limited to build a new Private Air Terminal at the Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport. Designed by India’s internationally acclaimed architect Bobby Mukherji, the infrastructure includes a new lounge, business centers, state-of-the-art services and a courtyard, particularly designed to cater to high-end visitors which are considered an expanding niche market of growth for St. Kitts. In launching the project, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis Dr. Denzil Douglas said, “The agreement between SCASPA and Veling Limited for the construction of a world class Private Air Terminal facility to be used by local operators will significantly advance the quality of service provided on our Airport.” He said by providing passengers with greater comfort, enhanced service efficiency in services and improved facilities, further benefits would be realized throughout all of St. Kitts’ economy – and he was right. Air arrivals have increased; a clear demonstration of the essential role SCASPA performs in contributing to the growth of the nation.
St. Kitts has also experienced an incredible increase in arrivals from cruise ship passengers. Hendrickson says port operations today accommodate some 500,000 annual arrivals, but he anticipates that number to increase to as many as 750,000 people. At present, the arrivals are so great that the overflow of traffic creates strain on port infrastructure, occasionally requiring services in areas of the port more meant for the servicing of cargo as opposed to cruise arrivals. Hendrickson says those issues will soon be resolved through the development of a second cruise pier which is being built at Port Zante in Basseterre. The project is being fulfilled through a public-private sector joint venture arrangement between SCASPA and the builder Cashman, Inc. of Massachusetts. “This will significantly improve our service performance and will allow us to accommodate four cruise ships at any one time,” explains Hendrickson.
A Greener Shade of Greatness
Among the most innovative of port advancements has been the creation of a new solar energy installation. Achieved through a development deal with Speedtech Energy Company of Taiwan, SCASPA (as well as all in St. Kitts) are benefitting from the clean energy facilitated by a five-acre solar farm, infrastructure which allows the nation to reduce its carbon footprint, decrease its dependence on oil and mitigate impact on that beautiful environment which attracts so many visitors. Hendrickson explains that this infrastructure has also helped SCASPA reduce costs associated with energy consumption. The facility is capable of producing up to a million mega watts of power. SCASPA collects that energy and supplies it back to the central grid maintained by the national utility provider. The system ultimately provides means for SCASPA to provide for its operational costs, decrease impact on the environment and secure reserves for investment in future projects. This development is among an array of other initiatives involving sustainability coming to fruition in St. Kitts. The Government as well as commercial companies have been engaged in a series of enhancements which are helping the nation achieve greater energy efficiency, cost effectiveness and greater eco-sensitivity. SCASPA has been at the forefront of that trend, and is now recognized as a model for best green practices among all ports in the Caribbean.
Hendrickson says, however, there is much more to come. Though he says that he is not at liberty to discuss certain projects that have yet to be fully negotiated, he affirms that SCASPA will be instrumental to other development plans for the not-so-distant future. “We are very excited about the future, and we’ve seen improvements in our operations by not only adapting to change, but leading the change.”
By focusing on the needs of the private sector, by moving to upgrade and modernize infrastructure, by capitalizing on advantages emerging from technology and alternative energy solutions, SCASPA has become what Hendrickson describe as “the backbone” of St. Kitts economy. He says that work continues, and much like that gorgeous sun that sparkles over the azure waters surround St. Kitts, he says, “our future is very bright.”
For more information, please visit their website at Saint Christopher Air and Sea Ports Authority