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Outlook remains positive for island’s maritime sector

Curacao Port 1

The island of Curaçao has had its fair share of economic up and downs in recent times, what with the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles and, more recently, political changes that have seen a series of prime ministers come and go in quick succession.

For the moment, the future looks reasonably promising; although, as always, opinion is mixed over whether Curaçao is heading in the right direction – especially as overall tourist numbers have been slipping, due in large part to a big drop in visitors from Venezuela.


Despite the government’s wish to focus on investment in information technology and perhaps move away from its economic ties with Venezuela, it’s the maritime sector of Curaçao that continues to be a dependable bedrock of the economy.

So whether it’s cruise shipping, container transshipment, tug operations, shiprepair, ship registry or sectors in which shipping plays a key role, such as oil storage and refining, Curaçao continues to show why it remains such an important regional maritime center.

In fact, there is plenty of positive news to report:

  • The Netherlands’ Damen Shiprepair & Conversion (DSC) has just taken over management of the local shipyard and aims to improve its performance.
  • The Chinese are close to assuming control of the island’s key 335,000 barrels per day Isla Oil Refinery, which dates from 1918 and is the second-largest in the Caribbean. The refinery is being leased by China’s Guangdong Zhrenrong Energy after being in the hands of Venezuela’s PDVSA for decades. The Chinese firm is said to be ready to spend billions of dollars on upgrading the ageing facility. In turn, this should have a beneficial impact on the Bullenbay Oil Terminal, operated by Refineria Isla Curaçao, the longest established and largest terminal in the Caribbean.
  • The Willemstad Container Terminal, operated by Curaçao Port Services, is believed to be close to placing an order for two new gantry cranes – a move that would increase productivity.
  • The completion this year of a second mega cruise pier and the subsequent construction of the associated Rif Seaport Curaçao project.
    So, all in all, the maritime sector seems to be in pretty good shape – certainly better than it has been for some time.






Master plan to enhance St Anna Bay

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It’s the age-old problem: what does a port authority do with harbor areas that have outlived their economic usefulness? Across Europe and North America, the stock solution is to convert the old warehousing and redundant quays into upmarket waterfront apartments and/or to create some kind of vibrant harborside district with shops, bars and restaurants. But in the Caribbean this has not been a particular issue.

Until now, perhaps. The Curaçao Port Authority (CPA) is one of the first to address the issue and to see a viable solution for parts of the inner harbor in St Anna Bay – one that benefits the authority, the local economy, the wider community and, hopefully, the shipping sector.

Like other port authorities, the CPA is a commercial entity and not a heritage trust, but the authority recognizes it has some obligations in preserving and maintaining Curaçao’s history – itself closely associated with the sea and shipping. Moreover, Willemstad, which straddles the entrance to St Anna Bay, is a Unesco World Heritage Site and the CPA must work within certain constraints regarding any alterations to the area. The traditional parts of the inner harbor area of Willemstad have fallen into decline from a shipping perspective. Yet these historical quays hold tantalizing possibilities for redevelopment that will have knock-on benefits for tourism and the cruise sector in terms of making Willemstad an even more attractive destination.


In fact, the CPA has four under-utilized harbor areas and has drawn up an impressive master plan that more or less covers the period up to 2025 and aims to revitalize the older parts of St Anna Bay.

The four areas under CPA administration within St Anna Bay that have been earmarked for redevelopment are the Waaigat lagoon, the Scharloo and Klein wharfs and the Mathey Wharf in Otrobanda (on the left side of the bay’s entrance channel). Together, these four areas add up to 16 hectares or so of shoreside land.

There is still some shipping activity in the four areas. For example, smaller cruise ships still call at Mathey Wharf, and Venezuelan ‘coasters’ can be seen along the Scharloo and Kleine wharfs, but these vessels are now mostly relocated to the Grote Werf.

Instead of focusing purely on shipping, however, a central feature of the CPA’s plan is to make the inner harbor accessible to the public as well as improving connections between the various neighborhoods around St Anna Bay while creating city-centre parks and meeting places – all with historical Willemstad as a backdrop.

Nevertheless, the CPA wants to retain a maritime dimension in some of these areas and says that the St Anna Bay master plan will continue to support a number of existing shipping activities while also introducing new ones. For example, Mathey Wharf will continue to welcome home-porting cruise ships and port-of-call operations as well as calls by non-cruise vessels. The CPA master plan foresees a much livelier Mathey Wharf area – one combining food and retail outlets with small businesses and the performing arts, all of which will not rely solely on cruise passengers for their existence.


The Waaigat lagoon, meanwhile, is one area that will end its links with shipping and will be enhanced by the construction of a marina. Sadly, the Waaigat faces water quality problems and these must be solved before the CPA can undertake any landside improvements. Such improvements are likely to include a new waterside park, the marina, an urban beach and a lagoon bridge coupled with mixed-use development featuring restaurants and offices.

The Klein and Scharloo wharves are also set to lose their maritime links and will give way to an esplanade and to bars and restaurants.

The North End of St Anna Bay will remain the focus for petroleum, refining and marine industrial operations such as shiprepair. Elsewhere, north of the Queen Juliana Bridge, the CPA expects to see a continuation of maritime activities. To the west, the plan is to upgrade infrastructure to make it capable of safely accommodating ships with liquid cargoes and those involved in supporting the offshore energy sector.

The CPA says that fulfilling its master plan will result in major economic benefits for Curaçao. It is estimated that 1,200 new jobs will be generated, directly and indirectly – a considerable number for a comparatively small island – and this figure excludes those involved in construction work.

The St Anna Bay plan is a long-term one, with each investment paving the way for the next phase. In short, the CPA seeks to put these four areas back to work on behalf of the whole island.







Upgrade for container terminal

The Curaçao Container Terminal is operated by Curaçao Port Services (CPS) on a long-term concession from the Curaçao Port Authority (CPS).

In 2016 the terminal handled a total of 98,278 teu – just short of the 2008 record figure of 102,082 teu.

The facility has two gantry cranes and some 1,000 meters of berthage. There is a maximum berth length of 460 meters and a maximum depth of 12.2 meters. The terminal has both ro-ro and lo-lo facilities and offers a 24-hour service.

The container terminal is government-owned and it has been clear for some time that investment was needed to upgrade the facility. The Minister of Economic Affairs, Eugene Rhuggenaath, had been pushing the port authority to urgently replace the facility’s two ageing ship-to-shore gantry cranes.

A major step in this direction was made in November last year when CPS and the CPA signed a new 20-year concession agreement. A key element of the new concession was a requirement for the terminal’s gantry cranes to be replaced within 24 months as part of an ANG 50 million upgrade program.

The Curaçao Harbor Free (Economic) Zone is located near the container terminal and acts as a distribution center.







Tug operator's full range of services

KTK (Kompania di Tou Kòrsou) Tugs is a wholly owned subsidiary of Curaçao Ports Authority (CPA) and is responsible for all towing, mooring and pilot launching services at all ports of Curaçao.

Accordingly, KTK Tugs provides towage services in the Port of Willemstad, Caracas Bay, St Michiel’s Bay, Fuik Bay and Bullen Bay.

In addition, KTK Tugs is available to undertake in-harbor, coastal and ocean towage, salvage and emergency response jobs, barge and pontoon transportation and other projects throughout the Caribbean, Central America and the northern coastal regions of South America.

The company owns and operates nine tugs ranging from 10 to 70 tons bollard pull. Four of the tugs undertake harbor towage services in Curaçao while the five other units operate in the international market. KTK Tugs also operates five Damen Pushy Cat workboats. These are used to provide offshore crew change services and offshore delivery of goods and spare parts.







New mega pier to meet cruise demand

Across the Caribbean it seems that existing cruise facilities are quickly outgrown – and much faster than was ever predicted when these were first conceived back in, say, the 1990s.

And in this respect, Curaçao is no different. The delights of sailing directly into Willemstad and seeing the old Queen Emma pontoon bridge open and close are sadly confined to passengers on board the smaller cruise ships that are still able access the historic and colorful Mathey Wharf.

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The ships operated by the region’s biggest cruise lines have long ago outgrown the narrow yet charming entrance to Willemstad and now berth at the grandly titled Mega Cruise Terminal – a facility that is little more than a basic T-pier with few of the on-quay visitor attractions now seen elsewhere these days across the Caribbean. So even this terminal is starting to look a bit passé.

In the late 1990s the Curaçao Port Authority (CPA) wisely opted to construct this deepwater pier beyond St Anna Bay at Rif Fort, but still close enough for passengers to access the Otrobanda side of Willemstad without too much trouble. At that time the new mega pier was a bold step, but one that enabled Curaçao to dramatically grow its cruise business and attract the biggest ships.

It has well and truly served its purpose. The cruise business doesn’t pause for breathe, however, and Curaçao is following its example. The success of Curaçao as a destination meant that the existing pier could no longer meet demand, especially during high season. And, as no one likes to turn away business, a decision was made in mid 2014 to build a second mega pier. The end result will be the Rif Seaport Curaçao, a destination village project that will include the second mega pier. This will be built next to the existing mega cruise terminal.


The idea is that the €38 million Rif Seaport Curaçao/Mega Cruise Pier II development will offer a better all-round visitor experience than the existing and somewhat prosaic mega pier and will comprise what the CPA describes as a vibrant and entertaining waterfront where visitors can experience the rhythm and flavors of the island. Moreover, Curaçao will be in a position to accommodate more cruise calls by even bigger ships. 
The CPA’s Sem Ayoubi told Caribbean Maritime that the second mega pier would be completed in November.

The work is being undertaken by the Netherlands’ Royal BAM Group. Once the new pier is fully operational, Curaçao will aim to attract up to 1 million cruise visitors each year. A total of 470,000 cruise passengers visited the island in 2016 compared with 511,000 the previous year.

The 200 meter long pier will be able to accept up to 8,000 passengers a day but will also be able to accommodate other types of vessels if required. The CPA says it plans to make some improvements to the original mega pier – a task no doubt made easier by the additional operational flexibility that the two facilities will provide.

The CPA believes the Mega Cruise Pier II will meet demand for the next 10 to 20 years before it, too, is doubtless overtaken by further and as yet unforeseen developments in the cruise sector.







Making the maritime world a safer place

De Ruyter Training & Consultancy, Curaçao has provided training courses for the maritime and offshore industry and the logistics and transportation sector since 2003 having previously organized ad hoc local maritime training for some eight years prior.


Today, DRTC Curaçao organizes about 150 courses a year on some 75 topics for groups of between eight and 15 students as well as offering all STCW certificates that are mandatory for seafarers. On shore the DRTC provides company safety training (bedrijfshulpverlening or BHV), which is compulsory in the Netherlands.


Courses in Curaçao are provided in cooperation with DRTC Vlissingen in the Netherlands and the local fire department (UO Brandweer & Rampenbestrijding Curaçao).

DRTC Curaçao offers both offshore and onshore-related training. It has its own facility in Willemstad at which both practical training and education is provided.

DRTC Curaçao is also well known for both its practical and theoretical training for non-maritime professionals. This training is provided by professional, specialized and highly qualified instructors. Courses are in four languages: Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamentu.

But it’s not only the maritime sector that looks to DRTC for training. General manager Johan Stegmeijer estimates that about half of its students are from onshore companies and organizations in the tourism sector, including hotels and restaurants, that want their staff to learn about safety awareness, basic fire-fighting, first aid and how to operate an automatic external defibrillator (AED) and to obtain the relevant certification. Covering an area of about 10,000 square meters, the DRTC Curaçao training center has two classrooms, a briefing room, an evacuation simulation hall, an advanced fire-fighting practice facility and a basic fire-fighting location as well as shore-sea survival logistics techniques.

On board

Some courses are not available in Curaçao and the company sometimes sends students to its main training base in Vlissingen. For example, it doesn’t have a bridge or engine-room simulator at its Curaçao facility.

The parent company provides high-quality safety training worldwide, with instructors giving hands-on training to seafarers on board ships. In addition to STCW-type training, DRTC develops tailor-made programs for the exact needs of clients. All instructors are highly qualified and have a wealth of experience in the maritime industry.

DRTC Curaçao provides all types of safety training in and around the Caribbean, especially in the former Dutch Antilles (Curaçao, Aruba, Bonaire, Sint Maarten, Saba and Sint Eustatius) but also in Venezuela, Colombia and elsewhere. It also provides specialist fire-fighting training for the aviation industry in Curaçao.

In addition, the Dutch coastguard (Nederlandse Kustwacht) receives training from DRTC.

In short, as Mr Stegmeijer says, DRTC is all about making the world a safer place.


New center in Suriname

DRTC currently has two training centers, DRTC Netherlands (head office) and DRTC Curaçao, and in the near future it will have a third when DRTC Suriname is set up. The Suriname facility will be a franchise operation, says Johan Stegmeijer.

Clearly, there is a need for a high-quality training centre in Suriname. Mr Stegmeijer explains the strategy behind the new set-up: “The upcoming offshore industry in Suriname and Guyana will generate a training requirement.

Of course, Suriname uses the Dutch language, so this made it a logical move for us. And the fact that there was no high-quality training offered locally”.







Damen takes over shiprepair yard

To many, Damen is a name inextricably linked with tug and workboat construction. And while this is the Dutch company’s core business, it’s sometimes forgotten that Damen is active in the shiprepair sector, too.

In fact, Damen operates 16 shipyards in the Netherlands, France, the UAE, South Africa, Singapore and most recently in Curaçao. These are all run as part of its Damen Shiprepair & Conversion (DSC) division. And it’s this division that has taken over the long-term management of the former Curaçao Droogdok Maatschappij (CDM) yard in February following an agreement with the government of Curaçao signed in September last year.

On assuming control of the CDM yard, DSC group director Durk-Jan Nederlof said: “The cooperation between Damen, the Curaçao government, local trade unions and the personnel of the yard has been very pleasant during the period of negotiations and transfer of ownership. We are very much looking forward to continuing this collaboration in the future. It is excellent to see the enthusiasm of all parties to make this yard such a success.”

Damen Shiprepair yard in Curacao Europe

New team

As part of the deal, Damen has installed a new management team led by Jaap de Lange who, since February, has been busy introducing new working methods and systems at the yard.

The facility is now operating as Damen Shiprepair Curaçao and continues to offer the same range of services and facilities as CDM. These facilities consist of two graving docks. The larger of these can accommodate vessels up to 270 x 44 meters. It has a draft of 7.9 meters at the entrance and 5.7 meters at dock head and has a capacity of 150,000 tonnes. The smaller dock has a capacity of 28,000 tonnes.

Damen has already made it clear that it intends to expand the yard by the addition of a third (floating) dock as part of a US$ 40 million equipment and upgrade program while fully utilizing the 1,000 meters of wet berths.


Worldwide group is parent company

Damen Shiprepair Curaçao is part of the Damen Shiprepair & Conversion group, which operates 42 dry docks in 16 shipyards worldwide. More details on Damen Shiprepair Curaçao can be found at: