Kingston Wharves readies for Panama Canal expansion

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Kingston Wharves Limited is further strengthening its transshipment capabilities to benefit from the scheduled completion of the Panama Canal expansion in 2014, given the continuous decline in domestic cargo to our shores, according to Chief Executive Officer Grantley Stephenson.

“It dictates that we change our mode of operation to focus more on transhipment,” Stephenson told a World Maritime Day Media Luncheon hosted by the Maritime Authority of Jamaica, Port Authority of Jamaica, KWL and the Caribbean Maritime Institution at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston yesterday.

The decline, coupled with the anticipated expansion of the Panama Canal, according to Stephenson, have resulted in Kingston Wharves deepening its interest in transshipment cargo as it identifies strategies to remain viable and competitive.

Although Kingston Wharves was established to handle domestic breakbulk cargo, 72 per cent of all cargo handled at Kingston Wharves, he said, is in containers and this figure increases yearly.

“The dynamics of our operations have also changed in that only 37 per cent of total containerised cargo is domestic while 63 per cent is transshipment,” he said further.

This, he argued, clearly demonstrates the need to take a hard look at the legislation that governs KWL’s operations as only five per cent of the company’s revenue fall under the Wharfage Act.

“Clearly, therefore, its relevance to current operation has to be carefully assessed,” he said.

He noted further that despite the global economic recession, Kingston Wharves has seen the volume in transshipment grow at an annual average of six per cent over the last five years. This, he insisted, is the primary area of growth to be focussed on.

Based on Jamaica’s strategic location in the Caribbean, it has been predicted that the expansion of the Panama Canal will bring increased business to Jamaica in many ways, including transshipment.

The focus, however, according to Stephenson, will not only be on container transshipment but other areas such as automotive.

He explained that the terminal which became a hub for Norwegian-based Hoegh Autoliners in 2010, initially planned for a transshipment of 15,000 motor vehicles, however, that figure has been surpassed by more than 200 per cent.

“Despite the earthquake and tsunami in Japan earlier this year, the 2011 volume of transshipment motor vehicles is expected to exceed the levels of 2010,” Stephenson announced.

He said they are at the preliminary stage of developing plans to handle more than just the transshipment of motor vehicles.

“The fact is, suitable facilities, highly trained and stable workforce and competitive productivity levels will determine our readiness for the projected growth in business,” he added.

To this end, he said, KWL implemented a rehabilitation programme in 2006 and to date two Berths totalling 370 metres with a draught of 13 metres have been completed. Additionally, the company has, within the last few months, acquired a Gottwald crane which is said to be faster and can lift 25 more tonnes than other cranes.

It is also said to be more fuel-efficient and carries more safety features.

The company has also acquired two new reach stackers which can lift heavier weights, are more stable and will not operate if unsafe conditions are detected.

“KWL will continue to leverage Jamaica’s strategic location to grow its transshipment business and continue to optimise the physical facilities in order to take advantage of any additional opportunities that may present themselves following the widening of the Panama Canal,” he said.

Meanwhile, president of the Shipping Association of Jamaica (SAJ), Roger Hinds said as service providers, the association has done much to prepare the sector for the developments which will come with the widening of the Panama Canal.

“In particular, as providers of labour, we have worked hard through negotiations with the unions as well as through training, development, motivational and other programmes to prepare workers who can compete with the best in transshipment,” he said.

This, he argued, is important as the worker is integral to the expansion and to any success Jamaica may derive.

He informed further that last year the SAJ introduced an NCTVET certification programme in stevedoring. Some 20 workers were certified last year while a new batch of 17 commenced the programme earlier this week.

In the meantime, Transport Minister Mike Henry said the Port Authority of Jamaica has prepared for an expected increase in business from the Panama Canal, by making provisions to link the port to Tinson Pen with dedicated road access for cargo while offering other value-added service. It will also fit into the master plan being outlined for the development of Vernam Field as a logistic hub.

“The opening of the Panama Canal is the greatest opportunity offered to Jamaica to rise from the ashes of decline and move into… increased growth and development,” Henry said.

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