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David Harding

Coming full circle

David-Harding

It was in October 1983 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that I first felt the unshakeable connection between the Caribbean Shipping Association and myself. It was not my first CSA meeting. I had a few already under my belt, beginning in the early 1970s. However, those earlier meetings for me could have been best described as ‘a rum drinker at his first wine tasting’ – a fair knowledge of alcohol, but unable to appreciate the nuances of the grape.

Metaphors aside, I began my shipping career in the late 1960s as a shipping clerk with a well-known Barbadian ship agency. I began my drinking much earlier. But I never allowed the latter to impact the former, nor affect my ability to perform my duties to high professional standards.

Arrival

So as I arrived in San Juan as a member of the fledging Shipping Association of Barbados delegation and now, in my own right, one of the leading Agents and a qualified master stevedore in Barbados, I felt that I had truly ‘arrived’.

The Barbados delegation was led by its President, Anthony (Tony) Moore, and comprised the Vice President, the late Leicester Carter; the late Kenrick (Buzz) Jordan, the SAB’s affable Secretary/Treasurer; the late Stephen Mayhew; and me, a founding member of the Committee of Management. All of our wives travelled with us since our collective reputation outside Barbados was allegedly not pristine.

Harding-council-1983-large

Above: CSA General Council: October 16, 1983, San Juan, Puerto Rico (l–r) Bunny Fernandes, Luis Ayala Parsi (Vice President); Mike Jarrett, Roy Mendes, Anthony Gambrill, R.C.N. ‘Reggie’ Smith, Ludlow ‘Luddy’ Stewart (President) Alvin Henry, Michael Blackman, Capt. Jim Powell (hidden), David Barbour.

That 13th Annual General Meeting was held at the Condado Plaza Hotel. Despite the packed agenda, it flowed well under the capable presidency of a youthful ‘Luddy’ Stewart; an even more youthful Executive Vice President, Alvin Henry; and a group of ‘heavy hitters’ who made up the General Council. Men such as Luis Ayala, Michael Blackman, Roy Mendes, Reggie Smith were all living legends. I believe our inimitable PR Director has in his archives a photo that shows that 1983 General Council. What a team!

Social interaction

While the business side of that conference had its highlights and, in particular, a robust discussion on Agents’ remuneration, it was the social interaction among delegates from all over the Caribbean and beyond that created the developmental platform that was to give the CSA its longevity and its historical relevance. Friendships were created for me in October 1983, in beautiful Puerto Rico, that have remained evergreen.

I recall that my room, across the bridge spanning the Condado street, was also the Barbados delegation’s hospitality suite. Here my wife Celia and I got a lesson in drinking. I left Puerto Rico knowing that I still had a lot to learn about shipping – but even more about drinking. Above all, I discovered that if you scratched a shipping person you’d find a truly decent human being underneath. But I am getting ahead of myself.

In our suite one night, George Noon – later to become the CSA’s eighth President – and his wife came in. Joined by some other delegates, the party soon began. The Barbados gang was there except for Buzz, who came in later with his wife Ruth. Buzz, being the showman he was and not knowing that the rather attractive stranger in the room was George’s wife, turned on, full throttle, the charm for which he was famous, lavishly applying his ever-ready gift of eloquent gab. The more he did so, the redder and angrier George got. And, of course, the angrier George got, the more hilarious the situation became. We were in stitches. When Buzz realized, in great distress, his faux pas, his eloquence disappeared and he began stuttering like a virginal 16-year-old on his first date. The great Buzz Jordan was silenced. The room roared with laughter but there was not a buzz from Kenrick.

On a more sombre note, that October meeting might be remembered for another matter of historical significance for the Caribbean. While the meeting was in progress, a ‘rescue’ mission was put into action, mainly through the efforts of two prime ministers, Eugenia Charles of Dominica and Tom Adams of Barbados, with the help of the United States armed forces. That mission was to restore democracy in Grenada following a coup that resulted in the death of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and many of our Caribbean family. It was a sad period for Grenada in particular and the Caribbean in general.

The Caribbean settled back into its role of opening its doors to tourism; several small territories flourished; the cruise business heated up; containerisation of cargo was now de rigueur for maritime transport in the Caribbean; transshipment hubs were developed; and the USA was fast replacing Great Britain as the main exporter to the English-speaking Caribbean.

Changing dynamics

Through it all the CSA grew from strength to strength, remaining topical as the dynamics of the industry changed; creating training modules catering to those changes; and building government relationships to help nurture the shore side of the business that would result in faster turnaround of vessels.

Whether it was the topic of intermodalism, land bridging or slot sharing, the CSA brought experts to present, to its membership, the challenges and rewards that the Region can expect in such a rapidly changing business environment.

It is difficult to list all the names of those stalwarts who have made this Association relevant and responsive to the needs of its members, but it must be noted that the efficient management of the Association fell to persons such as the late Monica Silvera and to Alvin Henry and Michael Jarrett, all of whom performed consistently beyond the call of duty.

Through the years, Presidents and General Councils would have come to expect and appreciate the works of that well-oiled machine known as the CSA Secretariat. I am indeed honoured to have been on General Council and CSA President during this time as I gained wise and genuine counsel from these dedicated persons. As for CSA Presidents, I acknowledge that they all served well, with their own style and flair, buttressed by their individual knowledge of and commitment to the maritime industry. However, I must make special mention of the Presidencies of Ludlow `Luddy` Stewart and Frank Wellnitz. These two had a great impact on me, shaping and guiding me to my own Presidency.

Great pride

During and after my Presidency, I observed with great pride the rise of Corah Ann Robertson-Sylvester through the ranks of what was felt to be an old boys’ club. She was to become our first female President. And preside she did with great confidence and tenacity. She changed the face of the CSA and the General Council forever.

So with the meeting this October in San Juan, I feel I have come full circle. The years between 1983 and 2012 have been the most fulfilling and rewarding in my maritime life. This doesn’t mean that I am leaving the industry but simply making a poignant observation of what this great Association is about and the capable men and women, past and present, who have ensured its purpose as a guiding light for us all.

I thank you, CSA, for being that beacon of hope and knowledge; the platform on which we were able to contribute to the development of regional maritime transport and, by extension, the development of the peoples of the Caribbean across all four language groups.

I thank you in advance, Puerto Rico, for what I know will be a most memorable 2012 AGM; and particular thanks to IPP Fernando Rivera for the tremendous work he has done for the CSA and its Secretariat. 

David Harding

CSA President 1997 – 2000