Shipping executive sees need for Port Georgetown improvements By Andrew Richards
Stabroek News
May 23, 2002

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A foreign shipping line has stated there is a lot to be improved to properly facilitate vessels coming into Port Georgetown but concluded that a good job is being done here given the circumstances under which the local industry operates.

Bas Norman, executive of Europe West Indies Lines (EWL) based in the Netherlands, shared this view on Tuesday with participants of the Caribbean Shipping Association (CSA) conference at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel.

Norman, who was representing shipping lines operating in Guyana, recommended that further dredging of the Demerara channel be done to accommodate a ship draught of seven metres.

He stated there should be proper maintenance of the main leading lights in the approach channel and replacement of the buoys in the main channel.

There must be 24-hour communication access to the lighthouse at the Demerara River mouth, he added. An improvement of the piers was required, he said, for the safer mooring of vessels and perhaps the investment of tugs to provide the possibility of berthing vessels in low tide.

Norman was speaking on the topic "The state of the shipping industry in Guyana" and shared a panel with Ivor English, director of the Guyana Maritime Administration (GMA); Ingrid Griffith, deputy commissioner of Customs and Trade Administration; Malcolm Bascom, managing director of the Guyana National Shipping Corporation, Frank De Abreu, managing director of De Sinco Trading; and Chris Fernandes, president of the Shipping Association of Guyana Inc.

English, in his presentation, said the GMA has embarked on a number of reforms in the industry and declared that a greater impact would be felt as the regulations are put in place to make the department a more responsible agency in terms of satisfying ports and shipping needs.

Norman said shipmasters have reported that their data show a draught of approximately 6.10 metres at the Demerara bar and this posed some problems to ships transporting containers. He noted that since the bottom of the river consisted of soft mud it was not so hazardous.

Shipmasters have also reported that buoys which mark the channels to Port Georgetown were not always on the charted position, he said. Norman stated the best way to approach the port was to follow the navigational lights placed at the centre of the channel, but he pointed out that the lights are sometimes out of order.

Another problem encountered is the inability to make contact with the lighthouse at times, especially at nights. Norman said it appears as though the persons manning the lighthouse are sometimes asleep and this causes a lost of berth, moreso when the vessels have to catch the tide to turn in the river.

The EWL executive stated that tugs are not always available in Georgetown to assist vessels in berthing and manoeuvring is difficult. He noted, too, that the facilities used for the berthing of the vessels are not very strong and cannot accommodate 150-metre long ships.

He pointed out that most piers were constructed with hardwood and stack weight sometimes posed a problem with containers being in danger of falling through the wharves.

Norman praised the work being done at the John Fernandes Ltd wharf where EWL vessels berth. He said though the facilities were not modern, the work is done efficiently and quickly.

English stated that though the draught of the ship's channel is approximately 6.5 metres plus the rise of the tide, this could reach up to 6.9 metres plus the rise of the tide with constant maintenance dredging.

He said because Port Georgetown is an estuarial port it was natural that the rate of siltation would necessitate continuous dredging.

"Of course the limitation in draught precludes ships of a certain size from calling at our port," he said.

English said Guyana offers 24-hour pilotage through the use of two well-equipped pilot vessels which are supplemented by two tug boats.

He disclosed that hydrographic surveys and dredging are carried out by the Harbours Division which utilises a suction dredger and a bucket dredger.

In an attempt to make the industry more responsive to international standards, English said, Guyana has acceded to a number of key International Maritime Conventions, Codes and Protocol.

He said a study was conducted during 1994-1995 on the establishment of an import container terminal and a National Ports Authority. He said it was felt that the container terminal would aid in decongesting the port of Georgetown which is situated near to a major thoroughfare - Lombard Street and Water Street. English said the option of the Ports Authority assuming a regulatory, coordinating and facilitating function while the operation of the terminal is carried out by private operators seemed to be the most suitable one for Guyana.

The GMA head remarked that the new Merchant Shipping Act passed in 1998 paved the way for the setting up of his department and allows for a more uniformed approach to management of Guyana's maritime affairs.