Acting Port Director Joseph Woods. Photo: Reshma Ragoonath

Even with a Grand Court decision on the port project referendum looming, it is business as usual for Acting Port Director Joseph Woods and his team.

“We will continue enhancements to our staff and making improvements to our facilities and equipment in 2020,” Woods told the Cayman Compass as he looked ahead to the operations at the port.

Last week, the judicial review case brought by Cruise Port Referendum Cayman member Shirley Roulstone ended in Grand Court after two days of hearings. The case challenged government’s referendum on the $200 million project.

Justice Tim Owen said he intended to deliver his ruling on the case during the week of 10 Feb.

The longer the delay in the holding of the referendum, which was originally scheduled for 19 Dec. 2019, the longer indecision remains on the future of the project.

Meanwhile, operations at the port continue unabated.

“The political side of it… that is not for me to get frustrated over or to speak about. I just say this is what we deal with, and that’s the facts,” Woods told the Compass. “So that’s all we have, we make it work. If it gets bigger, we’d be happy. We can do better. If it doesn’t, well… everybody has to be aware that you’re at the breaking point.”

Making the best of the present conditions

The need for a new cruise berthing and cargo facility has been a long-discussed topic for successive administrations. Opponents to the current proposed project have said the referendum on the facility should separate the cargo aspect from the cruise side.

But Woods said there can be no separation, as both aspects are interrelated.

“You cannot separate both. There’s no way to separate both. If you only built a cargo facility, you still have inadequate cruise facilities that will have to depend on the cargo facility. You just can’t separate them,” he said.

He added that, logistically, the two do not mix together and a separation of facilities is necessary.

“When you operate in cargo, especially if you have aggregate, you will always have aggregate falling off trucks. That creates a slip-and-fall situation, that also creates dust that passengers will have to walk in. If you get high wind days, the dust just blows in your face. The two really don’t mix, and if you only do cargo, you’re not helping the cruise aspect of it any… [If you’re only doing cruise you’re] not helping the cargo any. Both have to be done,” he said.

Cayman has been fortunate not to have serious incidents with the two operations running as they currently do, he added.

“We’ve been very lucky… you might put it that way. But that’s something that we try our best to prevent… any accidents. We try. In an ideal world it would be 100%, but I think we do pretty good seeing that we’ve done it for so long with no real major incidents occurring,” Woods said.

He said he has always stated that more space is needed at the port.

About an acre and a half of land is shared between cargo operations and cruise operations.

Woods explained that, at night, the space is used for cargo operations and the storing of containers when they come off the ships before they can be transported inland.

“By the end of the night shift, we have to have at least one acre of that cleared and cleaned as best we can for the cruise operations, for the transportation sector to be able to park on the dock because we have three terminals that we use for cruise, and none of them have transportation facilities. None… zero,” he said.

To make space for transportation, Woods said, the containers are stacked on the dock’s edges because the space in the middle is used for the cruise terminals.

“Otherwise, passengers would be walking across containers to get near the edge of the pier if you put transportation there, and that’s another safety risk where somebody could slip off and fall off the edge of the dock,” he said. “The containers have no feelings. You put them on edge or near the edge, and you leave a space for passengers, and that’s the best that we can do under the present conditions.”

Looking ahead

Woods said if the port project gets the go-ahead, that would help take the pressure off his team, but if it does not, as head of the port, he still has to ensure operations are unhindered.

“That’s it. If the port project doesn’t go [ahead], we continue working how we are,” Woods said.

The acting port director said that, over the last year, approximately $2.2 million has been spent making improvements to assist with the constraints on existing operations.

“Last year, we acquired eight brand new trucks to replace the 20-odd-year-old trucks that we had that were long past their useful life. So, the new trucks are much more efficient. We don’t get the breakdowns, we burn less fuel, so that was a significant improvement,” he said.

In addition to the fleet upgrades, the port also acquired a new large blade forklift, a new small forklift and two electric forklifts.

Woods said there were some improvements to facilities, such as paving Spotts passenger and transportation areas, the Taxi Dispatch Centre, the North Terminal and improvements to SafeHaven, including installation of banks of water meters.

He said the Cayman Brac Dock was also refurbished and at the Little Cayman Dock, the first-ever plugs to power refrigerated containers were installed.

A total of roughly $86,000 was also expended on IT improvements.

In addition to that, Woods said, nine additional port workers were employed in Grand Cayman and one in Cayman Brac.

He said further staff increases were planned.

All the improvements, he said, were funded from port revenues.

“In addition to that, our cash in the bank also grew significantly,” Woods added.

Port upgrades
  • 8 new trucks purchased
  • New large blade forklift
  • New small forklift
  • 2 electric forklifts

Total cost: $1.147 million

Other improvements
  • Paving Spotts passenger and transportation areas
  • Paving of Taxi Dispatch Centre
  • Paving of North Terminal
  • Improvements to SafeHaven (installation of banks of water meters)
  • Cayman Brac Dock refurbishments
  • Little Cayman Dock improvements
  • IT upgrades

Total cost: $2,207,269 (excluding personnel)