T&HD losing $$ from Berbice bridge but opportunities seen
By Alva Solomon
A two-day engineering conference organized by the Ministry of Public Works and Com-munications grappled with the challenges facing its various departments and heard that the Vreed-en-Hoop ferry stelling is to be transformed into an indoor market and parking lot.
The conference concluded on Friday at the International Conference Centre at Turkeyen and was held under the theme ‘Optimizing Engineering Practices’. The second day’s presentations related to Marine, Hydraulics and the Aviation sector.
Transport and Harbours Department (T&HD) Operations Manager, Marcelene Merchant noted a number of challenges in vessel maintenance. She told the audience that the department places significant emphasis on vessel maintenance and she noted that repairs to its vessels are made mainly at the private dockyards. She said these are located at the Vieira docking facility at Houston on the East Bank of Demerara and the Guyana National Industrial Corporation facility on Lumbard Street. She said the T&HD has a small docking facility in the Mazaruni area which is managed by Courtney Benn Contracting Services. The major challenges encountered by the department include the unavailability of spares and a shortage of personnel in the Central Workshop of the department. She lamented that there is currently a brain drain within the maintenance department since most of the engineers leave the profession for greener pastures. She said most of the vessels within the department are old and the engineers are trained to manage recently manufactured ones. As an example, she said a vessel had its low/medium speed engine replaced with a high speed Caterpillar engine in the early 90s. She said the faster engine is posing problems for the engineers to effect repairs.
She also noted the recent dry-docking of the Motor Vessel Kimbia which had a capital expenditure of $35M for repairs and a contract worth $53M was eventually signed. However, while in the dockyard, other problems were discovered and eventually another $30M was spent during the maintenance period. This revelation drew questions from the audience. Minister of Public Works and Communi-cations, Robeson Benn who was present throughout the afternoon session, said the demands were related to the age of the vessel. He said that maps and other planning materials of previous dry-docking periods for the MV Kimbia had not been maintained over the years as a result of the absence of a unit to monitor this aspect of maintenance.
Merchant made a few recommendations to improve vessel maintenance, including the urgent addressing of the shortage of human resources, upgrading of the equipment in the Central Workshop of the T&HD as well as a more feasible maintenance policy by the unit. She noted that the ferry service provided by the T&HD is a major driver in the economy and she encouraged the management of the sector to focus more on maintenance to sustain this service.
T&HD’s Yurlander Hughes’ presentation was based on the future of the department. She said it currently owns 10 vessels: 3 small and 3 large vessels, 3 motor barges and a tug. She noted that the department currently has 7 ferry routes in operation with the Parika to Wakenaam/Adventure and the Georgetown to Kumaka/Port Kaituma services among the more profitable operations. She said the recent opening of the Berbice River Bridge resulted in the department losing approximately $55M. She said, however, the bridge has brought new ideas for the department to explore. These include the re-introduction of regional shipping, the re-introduction of the New Amsterdam/Ituni ferry service, use of vessels for recreational purposes and a general increase in fares. She noted that a new and faster vessel is needed for the North West District route since the MV Kimbia which serves this route is slow and utilizes a lot of time on each trip. She also informed those gathered that the Vreed-en-Hoop ferry stelling will be converted to a parking lot and an indoor market in the near future. The stelling has been in disuse since the ferry service across the Demerara River was stopped.
She concluded that for the T&HD to survive, there is need for the image portrayed by the department to be improved and for employees of the unit to anticipate the needs of its customers and be proactive in meeting them.
Director of Ports and Harbours within the Maritime Administration Department (MARAD), Taig Kallicharran, dealt with dredging requirements to improve and maintain the main ports and river channels in Guyana. He noted that port operators utilise different dredging companies to dredge their berths and he believes this needs to be addressed. He also noted that there are a few oil installations located south of the Port of Georgetown and those operators dredge their ports every three months. He said a study is being conducted to ascertain why this is done since historically dredging occurred every 2 to 3 years. Kallicharran also pointed out that the northern section of the Essequibo River which is used for public transportation is the shallowest of the three main rivers of Guyana. He said it requires dredging of the main access channels to remove a substantial amount of silt but this exercise is costly. He also said that dredging of the river between Hog Island and Leguan is being considered. However, the river traffic required to create continuous turbulence is a factor being considered. He explained that after dredging, a river channel requires constant traffic to ensure silt and other particles are kept towards the river banks.
Kallicharran noted that the Berbice River is mainly utilized for the transshipment of bauxite to ships moored along the coastland and he said the bauxite companies usually dredge the river. He noted that there is a port facility at Everton in the Berbice River and it is being considered for transformation into a deep water harbour. He added that a deep water harbour is also being proposed to be established north of the Berbice River where an oil refinery among other facilities may be established.
Referring to Port Georgetown, Kallicharran said that the berths within the harbour are sited along the east bank of the Demerara River while no major wharf exists on the west bank since the area is too shallow and a lot of sandbanks are located in its immediate vicinity. He said a major problem within the harbour is siltation. He noted that in 1980 the Demerara River harbour was dredged to 6.9m Chart Datum. However, this has not been maintained since only minimal dredging has been carried out over the years.
He disclosed that the establishment of a Port Development Agency is being considered by the public and private sectors and the proposed terms of reference shows consideration should be given to capital and annual maintenance cost to maintain the department as well as ancillary items such as navigation equipment and fire fighting vessels.
Kallicharran noted that MARAD has a hydrographic survey unit but the unit does not have a suitable vessel to carry out surveys which is an essential aspect of dredging. He contended that the department is in need of a buoy tender vessel to assist the dredging process as well as other aids to navigation.
Meanwhile, Director of Maritime Safety, Stephon Thomas, in his presentation said that speed boat operators are making improvements to their vessels to guarantee the safety of passengers. He said the prototype vessel developed by MARAD was tested in the Pomeroon and Essequibo rivers. He said the only problem encountered during the tests was that the vessel utilizes a lot of fuel. He said that the deadline for operators to upgrade their vessels with sheds is at the end of this month but that deadline may be extended since several issues need to be addressed. He noted that a few operators who ply the Parika/Supenaam route have objected to several requirements and he said consideration may be given to their concerns.
Thomas said a few problems experienced by his department are a shortage of personnel and a lack of such personnel at remote locations, unqualified boat crews, the absence of marine pollution regulations as well as the flouting of the boat regulations in riverain areas.
Among the improvements within the sector Thomas noted, are the training of seafarers as well as the small number of Guyanese vessels detained at foreign ports. As regards the latter, he noted in 2008, only 2 vessels were detained. Thomas also announced that a vessel is being constructed in neighbouring Suriname for use here and will be one of the largest in the Caribbean. He said the ship is being constructed by a Chinese team of engineers while building materials for the vessel have been sourced from China.
In his closing remarks, Benn thanked the participants for their presentations and expressed hope that the conference will be an annual feature.
The conference was attended by employees of the Public Works ministry as well as other ministries, members of the public and students of the University of Guyana. The first day saw presentations relating to the Guyana’s road network, bridges, traffic safety and road construction among other issues.