Berbice deep water shipping facility dispute resurfaces

Stabroek News
April 2, 2000

A dispute over the use of the Berbice Deep Water Shipping Facility has surfaced again, with the bauxite unions claiming that Aroaima Bauxite Company (ABC) is blocking Bermine from using the facility.

ABC controls the facility, which is basically a big ship in the mouth of the Berbice River where barges unload bauxite and timber products which are then put on ocean going vessels too large to venture up river. The area around the ship has been dredged to allow the vessels to pass. ABC is half owned by the government and Reynolds Metals the third largest producer of aluminum in the world.

The three unions are stating that ABC is not giving the Berbice Mining Enterprise (Bermine) "windows" when they can unload their barges on to the facility and then onto ships. A press release from the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union, the National Mining and General Workers Union and the Guyana Mining and Metal Workers Union states that ABC "has placed an embargo on the use of the facility by Bermine, effectively restricting the transshipment of its bauxite and placing export of the company's products in extreme jeopardy... The embargo which remains in place for at least the second quarter of 2000 renders Bermine unable to guarantee the export of its products to overseas markets."

An official from ABC denied the charges describing them as "simply not true". He said that as far as he knew Bermine has ships which go up to Everton for partial loading and then tops them off at the New Amsterdam low port facility. In addition they use the Deep Water Shipping Facility and the official stated that Bermine used it only last month. Bermine officials were unavailable for comment.

A source close to the matter told Stabroek News that for the first quarter of last year Bermine shipped the same as for the previous year but suffered demurrage costs due to delaying ships. This was caused by the lack of windows and for the second quarter no windows were granted at all. Bermine reportedly pays US$3 for each ton passed through the facility.

The reason behind the embargo, the release said, is to "undermine a proposed joint venture acquisition of Bermine by the management and workers in collaboration with another foreign entity... and is intended to "soften up " the company for a possible takeover by ABC under the current privatisation process.

At yesterday's closing of the tender process for Linmine and Bermine, ABC was the only bidder for Bermine. The employees' bid was rejected by the Privatisation Unit because they had not prequalified. The press release stated that despite President Bharrat Jagdeo's representations to Reynolds Metals the embargo continued

and warned that "unless Bermine is granted fair and reasonable access... the unions will take such action as deemed necessary."

An observer of the situation says that ABC's bid for Bermine is necessary as its mines are becoming depleted. Reynolds' operations start with the mining of the raw bauxite at US$9 per ton and ends up with the production of aluminum for sale at US$1,800 per ton, the source said.