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With competition spending millions, Mingo stresses cruise re-invention

PHILIPSBURG--With news over the weekend of Antigua's intention to construct a multi-million-dollar cruise facility, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Port of St. Maarten Mark Mingo used the opportunity to re-iterate a position he has championed on numerous occasions: the importance of St. Maarten re-inventing itself as a cruise destination.

Local online news outlet Soualiga Newsday

(www. soualiganewsday.com) reported on Friday that the Antigua Port Authority announced a US $200 million redevelopment of its current facilities that serve cruise passengers.

This redevelopment includes a new cruise terminal; cargo/container facility; a logistics park; warehousing; distribution and fulfilment services; and bunkering facilities. The project is forecast, according to Antiguan port authorities, to get off the ground early 2015 and take 36 months to complete. Financing for the US $200 million project is expected to come from the Chinese.

Invited for his reaction by The Daily Herald, Mingo said that after hitting 50 years of cruising in 2014, Port St. Maarten has reached the crossroads in its cruise development and is now considered a mature destination. "As a cruise destination, we now have to reinvent ourselves.

"If we keep looking in the past, we will not move forward. The competition is fierce in the cruise business. St. Maarten as a cruise destination has to look at where we go from here. We don't have any time to waste, because our competitors are moving forward," he said.

"We have competitors at our doorstep, such as the Federations of St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, as well as the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands. They are all working on expanding their cruise facilities and securing millions of dollars to do so, because they also want to be on top," he added.

Mingo explained that, at the moment, St. Maarten is focused on coastal blue tourism, where the emphasis is on anything and everything related to the sea, sun and sand. All services and products mostly cater to the cruise passenger and are primarily beach-related. This, he stressed, must be complemented with more.

"We need to transition from this area and add something else as part of reinventing cruise tourism. Blue coastal tourism will always be there. We now need to add urban heritage grey tourism to our tourism mix, which looks at cultural/heritage and environmental/green tourism. The development of the aforementioned will give an impetus in economic development, environmental conservation, enhancement of heritage and cultural sites, which in turn will increase the identity and well-being of our community," he explained.

Mingo said the 21st FCCA Cruise Convention and Exhibition being hosted by destination St. Maarten will allow the port to bring all stakeholders together at one location. Insight will be provided into current trends and developments in the cruise sector and where things will be in five to 10 years from now.

He added that the formation of the St. Maarten Tourism Authority is also very essential in reinventing our tourism product, and Port of St. Maarten has played an important role in getting this moving in collaboration with the minister of tourism and other stakeholders.

"The continued innovation and development of shore excursions is necessary to keep the cruise sector alive and vibrant. New excursions mean new entrepreneurs are in business, which also translates into job creation. We also need additional brand-named hotels as well as cruise conversions. The latter is very important because, when there is a dip in cruise, we can offset with stay-over visitors and vice versa.

"St. Maarten's cruise sector is worth more than US $350 million annually and employs directly and indirectly thousands of people. This is a sector that we cannot fool around with, and we have to plan in a strategic manner to protect the sector by reinventing cruise St. Maarten in order to maintain the economic input into our economy and protect existing jobs and create more jobs for our people," CEO Mark Mingo said on Sunday.

Man shot in chest in drive-by shooting

page1b101CUL DE SAC--A 25-year-old man from French Quarter was brought into the hospital by friends on Sunday morning after having been shot in the chest, a source confirmed.

K.L.B. had been a passenger in a grey Kia Picanto, which had come from St. Peters and was approaching the roundabout near Le Grand Marché in Cul de Sac in the left lane, preparing to turn left towards Philipsburg.

Another vehicle pulled up next to the vehicle in the right-hand lane, and at least one shot was fired into the Kia, hitting L.B. in the upper left chest. The vehicle then sped off in the direction of Cole Bay.

L.B. is believed to have been in the car with two other men. The driver continued directly to the hospital, where L.B. was admitted in a critical condition. Detectives attended the hospital, along with forensic investigators who examined the Kia in which L.B. had been taken to the hospital.

A source at the hospital confirmed that L.B. had been brought in with a gunshot wound to the chest, and that he was initially in critical condition. However, he has since stabilised and is expected to survive the shooting.

It is unclear at this stage if the shooting is linked to any of the recent murders. The police were unable to comment, but are expecting to be able to give more information today, Monday.

Suspects in grocery store armed robbery released

MARIGOT--Gendarmes arrested two suspects on Thursday in connection with the armed robbery of a grocery store on Rue de Hollande on Tuesday morning, but subsequently released them from custody pending further investigation into the incident.

A man was detained at 8:00pm on Wednesday for firing shots with a gun at a car in French Quarter. The occupant of the car was not injured. The incident is under investigation.

Elsewhere, there were no incidents to report on Friday, Gendarmerie spokesman Capitaine Sylvain Jouault said.

WICSU concerned about safety of prison guards

POINTE BLANCHE--Windward Islands Civil Servants Union/Private Sector Union (WICSU/PSU) is concerned about the safety of prison guards at the Pointe Blanche Prison, and is calling on government to urgently address the staff shortages at the facility for the safety of inmates and its members.

The union's concerns come on the heels of a serious fight at the facility Thursday, which resulted in an inmate being seriously injured and the discovery of two firearms in a subsequent search of the facility.

WICSU/PSU President Dearie Leonard told The Daily Herald that manpower at the prison needs to be beefed up with competent persons. If this cannot be done the union wants government to consider seeking temporary assistance from the Netherlands for manpower to help bolster the security at the facility until alternatives can be found.

She said the safety of prison guards has been at risk for quite a while now. The union has held numerous meetings with prison director Edward Rohan and had recommended possible solutions. The suggestion of enlisting the assistance of the Netherlands was made to prison management and the union had been told that these suggestions were brought to the attention of the Justice Minister.

"Just Monday, we had a meeting with the prison director and he indicated that the suggestion that we put on the table was discussed with the Minister of Justice, but somewhere down the line the suggestion was not taken up," she said. "Requests were made for more prison guards, but the same story of there being no more money on the budget for this was given.

"Today it was a prisoner who was hurt, but tomorrow it can be a prison guard. These issues need to be addressed," she stressed. "It is not that we do not care about the prisoners because they are human beings, but if anything should happen to any of our members at the prison, the union will hold government fully responsible for that individual."

Leonard said it was worrying to learn that guns had been found in the prison. Although the union is there to defend the rights of its members, it will not condone any member breaking the law. "If it is proven that it was a guard who took those guns into the prison, whether they are a member of the union or not, they should be punished to the fullest extent of the law because by doing this they are jeopardizing the safety of prisoners and prison guards.

"We are calling on government to solve the problem of staff shortage at the prison today and not tomorrow. It is strange how we can go and recruit people to come to St. Maarten to work, but conveniently it cannot be done for the prison."

She said as temporary measure manpower can be brought in for six months to a year or two until the prison has sufficient manpower to adequately protect the facility. "We don't need quantity alone, we also need quality.

"We want the Minister of Justice to look into this matter, and whoever will be the Minister of Justice after October 10, we would like for him or her to focus on equipping the prison with prison guards," Leonard added. "We are urging all of our members at the prison to think of their safety first."

Unrest still ongoing in Pointe Blanche Prison

page3a100~Director gets death threat~

POINTE BLANCHE--Police assisted Pointe Blanche Prison for a second day in a row as there was still "unrest" in the prison. A second round of cell searches was completed.

Police spokesman Inspector Henson confirmed that further searches had been completed, and that officers had been asked to work overtime to facilitate the assistance to the prison. Other officers had been called in to work on their days off.

The police assistance was based on a request from Prison Director Edward Rohan, who had received information from inside the prison on September 12 that "the other cell blocks within the facilities should be searched for more illegal weapons and drugs. If this was not done, other very serious confrontations and vicious attacks between inmates would occur," the police press release stated.

A large police search team including the K9 unit and members of the VKS was put together and joined the prison search team. A very thorough search took place between 10:00am and 5:00pm on Friday.

"During the search, numerous homemade weapons, such as cleavers, machetes, knives or shanks, cellular telephones and many other illegal items including female G-string underwear were removed from the cells. No guns or ammunition were found during this search," the police press release stated.

Prosecutor Karola van Nie confirmed at the time of press that the only one man who had been arrested so far was the man arrested on Thursday for possession of an illegal firearm. His initials are K.F. No one had been arrested at the time of press for assault or attempted murder.

When asked if there were any plans to transfer any prisoners abroad for safety reasons, Van Nie responded, "We are not in the process of making those arrangements at the moment. At this time, there is still some unrest in the prison so the priority at this time is to get things to calm down again."

The man who was said to be one of the main players in the prison disorder of Thursday was named locally as 33-year-old U.L.W., known under the nickname "Nuto."

Nuto is said to be a lieutenant in the Curaçao gang "No Limit Soldiers," a member of which was held responsible for the murder of politician Helmin Wiels in Curaçao. However, so far, W. has not been arrested.

C.R., who was badly cut with a machete during the incident on Thursday, is still in the intensive care unit in critical condition, a police press release stated.

The Daily Herald understands that Prison Director Edward Rohan received a threatening letter yesterday morning. Although the contents of the letter cannot be disclosed, it is understood to have contained a death threat. Rohan was not available for comment, and police spokesman Inspector Henson could not confirm nor deny that a letter had been received.

Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson said of the situation: "It is clear that the safety in the prison falls short of what is desirable, if two firearms are found inside."

He said that immediate measures, such as heightened controls, are ongoing. The National Detectives ("landsrecherche") have also started an investigation into how these firearms could enter the prison. "It is clear there needs to be a different system of checks to minimise the risks of illegal items entering the prison," Richardson said.

When asked about how the shortage of staff in the prison will be addressed, Richardson said: "The sickness percentage is high. If people are abusing the sickness benefits, measures will be taken. Their actions are at the cost of others, who do their jobs the way they should." An investigation into sickness amongst staff is also ongoing.

"This week, I signed off the function book for the prison," Richardson said. "The prison currently is on 50 per cent of its full strength, staff-wise. We are aiming at increasing this. However, we are short of funds. St. Maarten is in debt. We have to take into account the budget. But this is not just a problem for the prison, but also for other agencies, such as the police force."

The minister called the situation a big dilemma. "We are not going to be up to strength in the short term," he said. "At the moment, we are focusing on making the best out of the resources that we have. We have to improve efficiency and heighten checks. Talks will start imminently on how to achieve this."

Richardson said that he did not have the feeling that those in government held Prison Director Edward Rohan responsible for the ongoing situation. "Rohan cannot run the prison on his own. However, he is responsible for his staff. But Rohan has always been very clear that he has insufficient staff."

Richardson did point out that both the prison as well as the police force has grown in staff numbers and capacity since 10-10-10. "The attention has been increased and the departments have grown. However, the growth is insufficient to deal with the current threat."

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