As president of the India Association, I write in support of the dredging of the Port of Charlotte Amalie harbor, a vital infrastructure project that will generate immediate investment returns for the Virgin Islands.
The West Indian Company spent more than $22 million in 2012-2016 to upgrade, reinforce, and add larger bollards, in anticipation of Oasis class vessels being able to berth.
The Havensight Shopping Mall owned by our retirement system (GERS) spent in 2014-2016 more than $3 million on architectural enhancements to the property including a beautiful welcoming sign, iron gates, and natural stone accents throughout to refresh the mall for visitors and locals.
The West Indian Company dock and mall have consistently been rated by cruise passengers as one of the best in the region because we invested. Unfortunately, because the harbor and turning basin have not been dredged in years, the Oasis class vessels have been repeatedly turned away from our premier dock and sailed to St. Maarten and other ports in the Caribbean. Millions in passenger spending and gross receipts tax have been lost because dredging has yet been done. In this fiscal year alone, WICO was unable to receive 21 Royal Caribbean Oasis class vessels at its dock due to dredging issues.
In addition, WICO has signed contractual agreements with Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line that include the requirement that WICO dredge the harbor for their XL class vessels. Failing to dredge immediately will put at risk these long-standing contracts and the territory will continue to lose ship calls from the XL and Oasis class ships.
It is no secret that WICO, GERS and its mall investment have all been negatively affected by the 2017 storms, the pandemic and the suspension of ship calls for almost a few cruise seasons. The cruise industry is rebounding and our cruise partners want to dock bigger ships at the WICO dock.
The dredging of the port should commence immediately to allow for oasis class ship calls. The financial payback will start immediately with each ship call and for many decades to come, supporting many Virgin Islanders’ jobs and generating taxes.
It’s time to spend money and invest in our infrastructure and the future success of our cruise industry, and as important to protect our marquee dock and mall, investments that belong to the people of the Virgin Islands.
In closing, the India Association of the Virgin Islands, again, stands with the people of our Virgin Islands.
– Pash Daswani, St. Thomas, is president of the India Association of the Virgin Islands.