Improved maintenance of Demerara Harbour urged by shippers

-point to possible competition from Suriname

The Shipping Association of Guyana (SAG) is calling for improvements in the management and operation of the Demerara Harbour and said delays in dredging the channel and replacing decrepit navigational aids represent threats to the sector’s competitiveness.

Speaking to a gathering of persons in the shipping fraternity at a dinner and awards ceremony three weeks ago at the Pegasus, past chairman of the SAG Clinton Williams said that while other developments are being pursued, Port Georgetown remains the key port for all of Guyana’s containerised exports and imports as well as break bulk cargo. He voiced the SAG’s willingness to participate in a joint management effort to improve the sector and make it more competitive.

He said that like Suriname, small feeder and general cargo ships service Guyana due to the draught restrictions in the ships’ access channel. He said that this channel is currently under incessant threat by siltation caused by the outflows from the Amazon River and hence must be dredged often.

“From a Chart Datum of six metres over the years, the period 2008 to 2011 has seen the level drop drastically to approximately four metres. This translates to substantial reduction in cargo carrying capacity of vessels transiting the harbour to about 60 to 70 per cent,” he said.

According to Williams, this translates to higher freight rates for annual average throughput of between 55,000 to 60,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) of cargo passing through the port.

“The ship-owners/operators would usually provide for revenues for full loads (cargo plus dead freight) in all voyages calculation. As you might have guessed by now, like everything else, these higher rates are ultimately borne by the consumer,” Williams said.

He said that in addition to dredging of the channel and the replacement of navigational aids, there must be the instituting of effective port measures.

“It is for these reasons that we again implore upon the government to give serious consideration to the SAG’s proposal for a public/private sector partnership approach for the management and operation of the Demerara Harbour in order to bring about the desired improvement in maximising throughput and lowering freight rates,” he said.

The SAG also called for the creation of an institutional body to ensure adequate safety and security as well as conformation to international standards. Williams said that such a body should have as stakeholders the Maritime Administration Department, the SAG, the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Defence Force Coast Guard, the Guyana Fire Service among others.

SAG is of the opinion that Guyana’s export competitiveness is inextricably linked to its capacity to provide and export its products and services at competitive prices.

“Given Guyana’s vast geographical area and poorly developed infrastructure, transportation cost ranks highest in the movement of products from farm, factory and or point of production to the marketplace,” Williams said.

“Even though we cannot ignore the importance of the development of the deep water harbour in Berbice, it is very evident that Port Georgetown would remain a key player in Guyana’s maritime transportation sector,” he said. “It therefore must be adequately maintained in order to better serve the needs of current users, as well as those anticipated new users, including transhipment vessels and larger feeder vessels,” he said.

He added that it would be tragic if Guyana’s unpreparedness results in Suriname stepping up to reap those benefits, “given their recent upgrading and modernising of their maritime infrastructure to cater (for) such opportunities.”

The SAG called on government to examine the idea of building a central terminal on the West Bank Demerara to meet the anticipated substantial demand for storage space and effective handling equipment for gearless or crane-less vessels which are usually larger.

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