$349 million in foreign reserves

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said The Bahamas' economy is sound, stable and growing, with foreign reserves standing at $349 million at the end of February.

Addressing the opening of Dock II at the Grand Bahama Shipyard, held in Freeport on Saturday, Ingraham said the present robust foreign reserves position compared with $157 million at the end of February 1992.

Ingraham tied The Bahamas' strong economic position to the commissioning of the second dock at Freeport, which he said was a critical element of Freeport's economy, as it opens a gateway to providing more jobs and business opportunities for Bahamians.

It also increases the development of industries operating in The Bahamas, he said.

The Prime Minister said the shipyard was developed and constructed under the greatest scrutiny to ensure that it is as environmentally safe as any other in the world, and designed to accommodate the largest cruise ships in the industry.

Started in 1999, just as the Phase II expansion of the Freeport Container Trans-shipment Port neared completion, the new ship and cruise line care facility secures the island's future as a major player in international shipping, he said.

And with Dock II in operation, he added, the Grand Bahama Shipyard offered the largest floating dock in the northern hemisphere.

Services provided will include steel and pipe work repairs, hull treatments, engineering repairs, electrical overhauls and survey inspections.

Ships calling at the shipyard will also receive routine service, damage repairs, Class certification and conversion for change of modification use, he said.

The shipyard has a complement of 423 staff, 206 of whom are Bahamians "receiving good wages, and operating in an industry which only a short while ago, did not exist in our country", Ingraham said, adding that he was confident that the forecasted employment of 388 at the yard would be met by 2004.

The Prime Minister said that as many as 2,000 additional jobs in the Freeport economy were linked to the shipyard through subcontractors. He said that the shipping industry created more than 6,000 new and additional jobs.

A food and beverage pavilion and a permanent training facility for Bahamian workers as ship builders, marine welders, marine engine fitters, vessel pipe fitters, electricians, machinists and environmental managers are expected to be completed within the year, Ingraham said.

He advised that the dock facilities receive shore-side support from workshops and storage facilities for materials and machinery incidental to the operations of a shipyard.

Ingraham recounted the circuitous route by which Dock II arrived in The Bahamas. After being purchased from Cascade General in Portland, Oregon, he said, it was towed from Portland across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, through the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean Sea, and finally across the Atlantic Ocean, arriving in Freeport in December, 2001, he said.

"During nine years of leadership," Ingraham continued, "my government has pursued sound fiscal policies, adopted and implemented transparent rules for promotion and regulation of local and international investment, and facilitated the economic empowerment of thousands of ordinary Bahamians, many of whom became owners and stockholders in the economy of our country for the first time ever.

"I am pleased to have been an instrument, in partnership with the Grand Bahama Port Authority, the Freeport business community, my colleagues and the people of Grand Bahama, in the rescue of the Grand Bahama economy from the doldrums to which it had sunk by August, 1992," he said.

The Free National Movement Government, he said, came to office resolute to reduce joblessness in The Bahamas, determined to facilitate the expansion of Bahamian ownership in the economy; and committed to creating an environment conducive to sustainable diversification in services offered in our economy.


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