When Cayman’s cargo port was opened in back in 1977 it served a population of 12,000; since then the population has grown to 60,000 plus.
However, the port itself has not grown and the increasing demand for imported goods has left the current facility bursting at the seams.
That is the reason why government officials claim the cruise berthing and cargo facility is not just a ‘want’, but a necessity.
“The current cargo port is old and too small for today’s needs not to mention future needs. It needs better protection from wave action and is potentially dangerous when operating at peak times,” the Office of the Premier said in a statement in response to questions from the Cayman Compass.
It is a point Acting Port Authority Director Joseph Woods raised in Finance Committee recently as legislators expressed concern over the working hours for staff at the port.
The director said that the port is operating at maximum capacity 90% of the time.
While the attention has been mainly focussed on the cruise berthing part of the project and its environmental aspects, government officials say the cargo port is an important element that warrants attention.
“The current cargo port is cramped, has been for a while, and does not serve us well – and this will worsen in the years to come.
“We need to be able to better separate cruise and cargo, as well as make for a more efficient and safer cargo environment,” the premier’s office said in the statement.
“We also need to modernise the cargo operations, including accepting larger cargo ships that will dominate the cargo sector. The cruise/enhanced cargo project solves these issues as well as provides a way to pay for the necessary added cargo space, without adding the burden on CIG [Cayman Islands Government], as well as cruise berthing.”
Some Opposition members like North Side MLA Ezzard Miller have called for the cargo port to be separated from the cruise berthing for the referendum, but the premier’s office said this is not possible.
“There has always been one project with the same repayment source – that is the proposed Cruise Berthing and Enhanced Cargo project. If the project is voted down then both aspects will be voted down,” the statement said.
Should the referendum go against the government that will be end of the upgrade to the cargo facility for now. Government said there are no plans to revise and retender the port aspect of the project.
“Not by this Government, and any future Government will be faced with the same issues – how to pay for it coupled with any new potential objectors,” a spokesman for the premier’s office said.
“The concern is that both aspects of this project have the possibility to get done now with a good deal and at a time when CIG is in a good position.”
Port Authority struggling for space
The Port Authority has warned that space limitations at the current cargo facility are putting a strain on the efficiency of its staff and the maximisation of its equipment.
“The time to expand is now, before we reach the critical point in the very near future,” a Port Authority spokesman said in response to questions from the Compass.
“No one waits until his clothes are two sizes too small before acquiring better fitting ones. In the case of our facilities, we are already one size too small for the cargo dock and two sizes too small for cruise.”
Under the project the cargo space will increase by 27% when compared to the nighttime cargo area and a wider space for daytime operations.
The changes will allow for more operational space for equipment movement and simultaneous operations of container vessels and aggregate/cement, the authority said.
The extra space will also allow larger cranes to work on the pier.
There have been two expansions at the port in the past, the authority said. The most recent addition of the Royal Watler terminal was projected to last for 15 years.
“We are now a little past that and struggling for space. The lack of space causes delays on the vessel operations and the availability of the containers for the retailers/importers in Cayman. This proposed expansion should provide us another 10-15 years before additional expansion would be required. The continued growth of the Cayman Islands along with continued increase of imports both in containers and bulk continues as a steady pace which contributes to the forecasted capacity,” the spokesman said.
The addition of a third small berth for the barges/aggregate/cement is a huge improvement, according to the authority.
“[It] allows operations of another vessel which cannot be done at this time. Moving that berth out of the way of container operations allows for the simultaneous operations of container vessel and bulk,” the spokesman added.