24/7 dredging of Demerara needed – Luncheon

The dredging of the Demerara River needs to be boosted to 24 hours a day as it is clear that the routine dredging that is currently practised in the river channel is insufficient to optimise the use of ocean-going ships of Port Georgetown, Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr. Roger said yesterday.

Speaking at his weekly post-Cabinet press briefing at the Office of the President, Luncheon said that focus continued to be placed on the dredging of the Demerara River.

He noted however, that it was clear that the routine dredging that is currently practised in the river channel was insufficient to optimise the use of ocean-going ships of the port of Georgetown, the Government Information Agency (GINA) reported.

“It was felt that dredging activities that are currently being done needed to be augmented to minimally, 24 hours dredging, which brought into sharp focus, the cost factor,” Luncheon was quoted as saying. The need for dredging on a 24 hours a day basis has since seen efforts and initiatives at the level of Central Government and private investors. Dr. Luncheon said that the past successes of public-private partnership have paved the way for such a consideration in this dredging project, GINA reported.

“The overpowering need, the urgency was recognised by Cabinet and it would keep the dredging of Port Georgetown under continuous scrutiny during this time. The initiatives of the private sector would be explored to bring finality to the task of providing 24-hours a day dredging of the Demerara River,” Luncheon said.

The issue of the shallowness of the channel and its maritime and economic implications has been at the forefront of the shipping industry’s agenda for several years. In March, chairman of the Managing Committee of the Shipping Association of Guyana (SAG), Desmond Sears, detailed some of the current negative economic consequences and the likely future lost opportunities from further delays in undertaking the dredging of the channel.

Alluding to the “severe limitations that the shallow draught of the Demerara River Channel imposes on maritime commerce” Sears had said that the restrictions placed on the size and weight of vessels and cargo entering or leaving Port Georgetown “has had a negative impact on shippers, the commercial sector, the public sector including GUYSUCO, and the private productive sector”. According to Sears the limitations of the channel have resulted in a significant slowing down of business. “Some Caribbean and international markets have been lost or reduced because cargo vessels could only take out limited volumes of cargo.  The same inefficiency applies to the movement of cargo inward,” he had added.

Last year the SAG prepared a paper on the problems of the channel for the regional shipping journal Caribbean Maritime in which it suggested that the issues which have negatively affected opportunities for significant growth are, in several respects, linked to the delay in implementing port development measures including the dredging of the channel.

Last year, the Private Sector Commission (PSC) had also identified the dredging of the Demerara Harbour as one of two infrastructural projects that are absolute priorities.  PSC Chairman Ron Webster said that the dredging and rehabilitation of the Demerara Harbour were vital. This, he said, could be followed eventually by a deepwater harbour but that the Demerara Harbour had to be addressed immediately.

Webster had said that 90% of the country’s goods come via the Demerara River. He had noted that at present cargo destined for Guyana is transshipped from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago via smaller feeder vessels which only come in half loaded because of the silted up Demerara Harbour. The present route is Trinidad, Suriname and then Guyana.

“This places an enormous cost on every tonne of product that comes in…,” Webster had said, adding that this matter had been advanced by the private sector via government’s Competitiveness Unit but that action needed to be “speeded up”. He had argued that it impacts on the cost of living and reduces the ability of the country to compete with the rest of the Caribbean. He contended that his concern was the manufacturing sector, which has to export in an efficient manner and the matter of the cost of goods on the local market which could be reduced if larger capacity vessels were able to come.

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