Port Authority of Jamaica

Port Authority of Jamaica

Contrary to assumption, sustainable development is not always costly nor without economic benefit, as the Port Authority of Jamaica discovered with their Historic Falmouth Port project. The J$180 million project, inaugurated in early 2011, required expansion of the Falmouth Port and its coral-reefed bay to allow access to some of the biggest cruise ships in the world. The Port Authority also has projects to expand its containerised cargo business, the second of its two maritime activities. Although sustainability is not specifically mentioned in its goals, it appears to be a key component of them.

Jamaica’s Port Authority Sustainability Goals

The Port Authority of Jamaica is a government entity responsible for the regulation and development of Jamaica’s seaports. It monitors harbours, ports, and port facilities to make sure systems, procedures, and security measures all function in accordance with international maritime codes and conventions. The international conventions do include sustainability clauses, requiring minimal impact of oil spills, bilge disposal, and dislocation of marine life, all of them potential issues with any port expansion project, including Falmouth.

Falmouth Port Project

The Historic Falmouth Port project was designed to attract tourists to the town itself. Founded in 1769, Falmouth was the exit site for the world’s largest exporter of sugar and the birthplace of the abolition slavery movement. Its Georgian architecture and colonial town feel has been well preserved.

The upgrade project was designed to increase the size of the port, enhance existing attractions, and add hotels, a local crafts market, and numerous local restaurants and gift shops. Increasing the size of the port required construction of a new docking facility (gated), deepening the coral-reefed bay, and widening its entrance to allow passage of giant cruise ships. The project also meant threatening the unique ecosystem of the bay and disrupting the sleepy lifestyle of its people.

Oyster Bay (or Glistening Waters, as the locals call it) is only one of four lagoons in the world that is filled with bioluminescent plankton, making the whole bay glow at night. In order to preserve this special effect the Port Authority had to make sure that construction did not change the water flow, temperature, or nutrients upon which the plankton depended. Its cost was born knowing that tourists would be interested in this special feature, in addition to historic slave sites and other features on land.

Rather than tackling the project alone, the Port Authority teamed up with Jamaica’s National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) and private engineering consultant Mott McDonald. Together with NEPA, Mott MacDonald devised a plan to move 100,000 m2 segments of coral and 25,000 m2 of sea grass to other locations where they could thrive. They tested water flow and redesigned the shape of the pier to counteract the effect of dredging, so the flow would be altered as little as possible. Their planning role covered all stages of development from beginning to end.

The subcontractor who carried out the actual construction was Boskalis, under the direction of E. Phil & Son, general contractor for the entire project. Boskalis installed silt screens, submerged pipelines for excess sediment-laden water, reef havens and towers, and relocated the coral and sea grass. Then they deepened and widened the access channel to the harbour. They monitored water quality the entire time.

The results garnered the Port Authority yet more world tourism awards. Since 2007 the Port Authority had won World Travel Awards every year. In 2014 it won four of them for the world’s leading heritage project, and the Caribbean’s leading heritage attraction, cruise port, and cruise destination.

Benefits to the area’s 8,900 residents, another aspect of sustainability, have not yet been realized, but have been included in the development plans, according to an interview of Falmouth’s mayor, Garth Wilkinson (The Gleaner, 12/05/14). One assumes the project is ongoing and the Port Authority will meet these obligations in the near future. Meanwhile, the Port Authority is moving ahead with its plans for containerised cargo.

Jamaica’s Containerised Cargo Plans

In addition to cruise shipping, Jamaica’s Port Authority is working to expand containerised cargo shipping, it’s other major maritime industry. The widening of the Panama Canal for monster container ships from China provides the potential for Jamaica to become the world’s 4th largest global trans-shipment port, distributing goods from Asia throughout the SE United States and Caribbean Rim countries. Goals include adding facilities for “the breakdown and repackaging of cargo, the light manufacturing and assembly of goods, and marketing for a wide range of goods,” according to World Port Source (

The expansion will require dredging the Kingston Harbour and access channel, and upgrading its docking and container offloading facilities and equipment. The project’s aim is to be able to handle a total capacity of 5.2 million TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit) cargo containers per year. With its bigger size the port should be able to accommodate even the largest ships coming through the expanded Panama Canal – up to a maximum depth of 15.2 metres, length of 366 metres, and a width of nearly 49 metres.

In September, 2013 the Port Authority completed its Environmental Impact Assessment, which recommended, among other things:

• Taking measures to minimise the spread of sediment from dredging.
• Maintaining sand supply to nearby beaches that have eroded due to former dredging activities.
• Replacing lost marine habitat to improve biodiversity and productivity of the ecosystem.
• Ensuring adequate communication with locals re. changes in daily routines that would be affected by the project.
• Compensation for any actual loss of income during and after construction activity.
• Establishing a monitoring plan to check impacts as they occur.

The local populace, although concerned about possible impact on their fishing livelihood, anticipates increased employment opportunities and supports the proposed development, according to the EIA. The Port has contracted Mott MacDonald to plan and oversee this project as well. Given its past history, we trust that the same careful attention will be paid to the EIA’s environmental recommendations and to project sustainability overall.

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