Published On: Thu, Feb 7th, 2019

Port needs capital injection

Cruise ships in Port St. Maarten with Dump Smoke over Philipsburg - 20180207 MP

PHILIPSBURG – The harbor currently has $25 million in liquid assets, its Chief Financial Officer Ton van Kooten told members of the parliamentary committee for tourism and /economic affairs on Wednesday morning. He said that up to august 2017 the port was operating close to break-even but that Hurricane Irma caused the company to close the year with a $10 million loss. In 2018, the port booked a modest profit of $1.9 million.

While the port is able to pay its operational costs, Van Kooten noted that for a $300 million-facility a profit of just $1.9 million is marginal.

Minister of tourism and Economic Affairs Stuart Johnson presented a brief overview of the state of the cruise industry. In 2018, the port received 1.6 million passengers from 490 cruise ships. For 2019 the port expects similar numbers but in the years after it projects a growth towards 1.7 million or more cruise arrivals.

Cruise passenger spending is down from a pre-Irma average of $191 to $142.22, while crew spending amounted to around $119.

A survey among cruise passengers reveals that – on a scale from 1 to 10 – the likelihood of these visitors to return to St. Maarten is just 5.4.

Minister Johnson said that the port needs a capital injection to facilitate the construction of an additional pier. Until 2025 the port has limited investment possibilities due to is low cash flow.

MP Sarah Wescot-Williams noted that towards the end of this month a decision will be taken about the continuation of the civil inquiry at the port by the prosecutor’s office. Against that background, the MP warned that statements about the port made in parliament could have “different impact” and she suggested that the minister caucus with the port representatives about the desirability of a meeting behind closed doors.

That was not to the liking of opposition MP Christophe Emmanuel. “The port is not a private company; it is government-owned and as such it belongs to the people. They have a right to know, and I want to know, what is going on at the harbor. It has operated for too long as a government all of its own. I am not in favor of closed door meetings.”

MP Jurendy Doran asked whether the average passenger spending at stores at the port facility is up. The ministry’s Secretary General Miguel de Weever later answered that such data are not collected.

MP Rolando Brison, who chaired the meeting, asked about the distribution of passengers to town through the tender services and whether the Zebec case has been closed. He furthermore informed about the possibility of leaving on-board casinos open after 5 p.m. when they are in port. “In that case ships would probably stay longer in port,” he said.