Ricardo Gonzales, assistant operations manager at the Port of Port-of-Spain, says plans must begin immediately to get the port ready for the Panama Canal expansion or else T&T would be left behind. The expansion of the Panama Canal—third set of locks project—is a project that will double the capacity of the Panama Canal by 2014 by allowing more and larger ships to transit. He said management of the port has established a strategic plan that would be rolled out in three phases over a five-year period—2017—that would put the port in a position to maximise on the expansion. Achieving that, however, requires political will. “The Government must move now to put plans in place.” In an interview with the Business Guardian at the port on Friday, Gonzales said the Panama Canal would have a significant impact on T&T’s trade and investment. “It’s going to make a major determination on how we operate and do business. It would also mandate the shipping lines to operate in a particular way.” He said T&T is ideally located to be a transshipment point and, while this has been their main focus, “we need to put the required mechanisms in place or else we would just be a secondary port facilitating imports and exports.”
Gonzales stated that the Panama Canal is going to open up the market for more trade to pass through region, which would see the creation of more transshipment hubs. He said experts anticipate this expansion would require about four transshipment hubs in throughout the region, as no one port can facilitate all the cargo. “So the ports have an opportunity, once they present themselves, to capture some of the business, but if we are not ready, we are going to lose.” Currently, Gonzales said transshipment business represents roughly 53 per cent of their overall operations. “This 53 per cent represents transshipment going to South America, Paramaribo, Guyana, several Brazilian Ports, China and India and vice versa.”
Gonzales said management is working on a strategic plan which requires a capital investment of $1.4 billion for the creation of a berth of 500 metres just before Movietowne: that can accommodate the larger vessels passing through the Panama Canal, the present construction at shed nine, the relocation of shed ten and the mechanical garage. Reclaimed land at National Flour Mills Ltd would accommodate 600 ground slots and 500 ground slots at shed nine. “One of the first issues that needs to be addressed is space because over time, the port has become compressed. We have lost space on the west from Movietowne and on the east from Hyatt.”
Other areas of the plan:
1.The working practice/industrial contract
Gonzales said the port is operating under an archaic working practice that is ineffective and unproductive. He explained that employees work a normal Monday to Friday work week and the weekends and public holidays are considered overtime. “We are approaching the union to change that to a five in seven day practice which means that employees work any five in seven days as straight time, so Saturday and Sunday become normal working days and they would be given another two days off.” Some companies already employ this system. Gonzales said this system would alleviate the industrialised mandatory overtime period. At the conference last Friday, Transport Minister Chandresh Sharma said the port’s $92 million overtime bill was unacceptable. Gonzales said operations on the port require an integrated workforce and best work practices, whereby resources are better utilised and workers could multitask.
Gonzales said the port needs new equipment as two of its five ship-to-shore gantry cranes are more than three decades old, while their nine-year-old harbour crane needs maintenance. The crane maintenance has to be done in three stages, with each averaging $1.2 million. “While we have 5000-500 TEU vessels that are 294 metres long and has a reach of 13-container wide, we require two more, as two cranes have limited reach in operating on larger vessels.” Gonzales said the port acquired its equipment from Germany, Belgium and Holland.
• Two Nuevo Panamax crane
• Four hip-to-shore cranes
• 15 rubber tyre gantries and improvement in yard crane fleet.
“Right now, we have 14-yard cranes, three of which are very old and can’t make the required height. So this is where we have been challenged and have been trying to manage our resources the best way we can.”
Gonzales said while the port has to deal with space constraints and equipment challenges to operate effectively, there are some misconceptions about its operations. He said the port has been consistently blamed for delays, but clearing a container is not solely dependent on the port. “The port is the second-to-last process in the transport logistical chain.” Trade Minister Vasant Bharath said during the trade facilitation conference said it usually takes between 15 and 19 days to clear a container. Gonzales explained there are several steps the customer has to undertake before port clearance takes place. The customer is required to engage the cargo accounts department, which a broker must be employed to complete documentation. There are other external agencies, such as the bank, Customs and Excise, plant and health quarantine and, in some cases, Ministry of Trade and the Bureau of Standards. “Following this, the broker is required to inform the haulier to collect the cargo, The haulier is required to make an appointment in the port system-Navis, which is a 24-hour advance reservation. “When this is done, the customer can receive the cargo in 20 to 30 minutes.” Gonzales said reducing this lengthy time or delay in clearing any cargo or shipment requires greater collaboration between the port and Customs and all other supporting agencies. He said integration of all electronic systems is vital to the overall delivery of containers. “We are still doing Customs releases in our Navis system and, in some instances, Customs is still doing it manually.”
The issue of ‘dwell time’
Another major issue that hinders the port’s efficiency is the dwell time for cargo. Dwell time is the time cargo remains in a terminal’s in-transit storage area while awaiting shipment by clearance transportation. Drawing reference to Singapore, Gonzales said the dwell time for cargo is three days, whereas in T&T it’s ten days. “Singapore free time is 72 hours from the time the container lands. After 14 days, it is considered abandoned cargo, where the importer is served a notice and it is offered up for auction.” For T&T, he said, it is seven calendar days free time and after 180 days, it becomes abandon cargo. Another factor that impacts on dwell time is shipping lines’ ability to remove their transshipment cargo in a specified time. The dwell time for transshipment is 14 days, but shipping lines leave cargo more than 30 days, he stated. “This reduces productivity, impinges on land space and this impacts on the general service to the customers.” The shipping lines at times change rotations in their reservations without giving prior notice and, in some instances, the port received restows—returned transshipment—which all impact on the availability of space. Gonzales said the dwell time for cargo needs to be reduced.
Facts & Stats
• The targeted turnaround time the port wants to achieve is 40 minutes with 700 moves
• Total turn around time between April and June was 65 minutes
• September 13: The port did 698 moves with an average turnaround time of 56 minutes
• The daily average delivery of imports is 253
• On September 6 and 7, the two days when the crane broke down, the port achieved 577 gate moves in 87 minutes and 483 moves in 82 minutes, while delivering 219 imports
• Peak season, which usually starts August 1, but in the last three years, Gonzales said it started in July.
• Peak season: The port usually does between 700 and 750 moves.