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SPECIAL REPORT: Trinidad and Tobago

After an absence of eight years, Port of Spain is once again the venue for this year’s Caribbean Shipping Association AGM. To coincide with the meeting, Caribbean Maritime is taking a close look at key aspects of Trinidad and Tobago’s vitally important maritime sector.

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Improved productivity brings results


There’s good and bad news for the Port of Port of Spain (PPOS). The good news is that, after many years of trying to improve productivity, there is now very real evidence that measures designed to speed up cargo flows are finally working.

And the bad news? Well, despite the growing efficiency of PPOS, there has been a disappointing drop in the volume of cargo being handled by the Port of Port of Spain over the past two or three years.

In 2014 the port handled 385,892 teu, but this fell to 298,686 teu in 2015 and, working on early estimates, it is set to slip to around 257,000 teu this year.

But these figures are probably more a reflection of the overall performance of Trinidad and Tobago’s energy-based economy than the success or otherwise of PPOS.

So, concentrating on the upside, PPOS is really getting to grips with its previously less-than-stellar productivity – a long-term gripe among carriers using the port.

Container moves were 17.5 an hour in 2014, improving to 21.7 in 2015 and on target at 26.2 berth moves per hour this year. The port told Caribbean Maritime that 30 berth moves per hour was an immediate aim.


It’s safe to say that new additional equipment will be needed if the port is to continue to make significant productivity gains and this has been under discussion for some considerable time. The PPOS is believed to be keen to acquire a new ship-to-shore crane and 25 tractor trucks and hopes to make a decision in the very near future. As with many state-owned organisations, however, investment decisions can be difficult at a time when governments have other calls on public spending. Privatization of the Port of Port of Spain could solve this problem, which has been discussed on many occasions over the years although the talks have come to nothing. In any case, it’s a political hot potato, with local trade unions vehemently opposed to any sell-off or private-sector involvement.

“There have been talks in the past of a public-private partnership,” a management spokesperson told Caribbean Maritime. “But this does not seem to be on the cards at present.”

As elsewhere in the Caribbean, the impact of the Panama Canal’s enlargement has still to be fully appreciated and understood – both positively and negatively – in Port of Spain.

PPOS has clearly weighed up the pros and cons and has made a decision about where it wishes to position Port of Spain, saying on the one hand: “The positive impact is that it provides an opportunity for increased business through the handling of transshipment as a hub or sub-hub and the added value of logistical services such as distribution, repackaging, relabeling and other similar activities.”

On the other, PPOS conceded: “If the port is not prepared for expansion, whereby it is unable to accommodate neo-panamax vessels, then the port will miss the opportunity to handle transshipment cargo.”

PPOS Review

PPOS is not in a position to take advantage of the canal expansion and could be on the negative side of the impact. Before the expansion, PPOS was in a position to handle the largest container vessels transiting the canal. With the expansion, vessels on the Asia-Caribbean route will not be able to be accommodated at PPOS and this could have a possible negative impact on transshipment business.

However, given the competition among Caribbean ports to secure calls from these larger ships and the money that needs to be invested in the facilities to do so, it may indeed be a wise decision to let this particular zeitgeist pass PPOS by.


Cruise sector beckons

In addition to the cargo handling unit of the Port of Port of Spain, the Port Authority has a unit that operates a cruise ship facility. It has carved an interesting niche for itself in the cruise sector by offering something a little different from the average Caribbean island destination. As PATT explained to Caribbean Maritime: “Our goal is always to increase cruise ship calls to both islands. MSC Cruises is expected to be the main cruise operator calling at Port of Spain next season.”






Outlook positive as Port and Estate turns 50


It’s one of the Caribbean’s most successful industrial complexes and it has just celebrated its 50th Anniversary.

And we can thank the considerable foresight of a small group of San Fernando-based business people from the South Trinidad Chamber of Industry & Commerce for what is now known as the Point Lisas Industrial Port Development Corporation (PLIPDECO).

Today, PLIPDECO is a public company owned 51 per cent by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and 49 per cent by private shareholders. The value of the Point Lisas Industrial Estate to the local economy is said to be around TT$ 35 billion a year – or some 20 per cent of total GDP.

PLIPDECO has two core activities: industrial estate management and port management and operations, including cargo handling. The Corporation is the owner and landlord of the 860-hectare Point Lisas Industrial Estate. The Estate is home to over 100 tenants, including those operating methanol, ammonia, urea, power and steel plants, as well as a number of light manufacturing and service companies.

As a cargo port, Point Lisas comprises six general cargo and container berths. The facility handles a variety of cargo including containerized, breakbulk, lumber, paper, consumables, dry bulk and steel.

In 2015 the port handled 221,836 teus and a further 312,757 tonnes of general cargo. As elsewhere in Trinidad and Tobago, Point Lisas has seen a recent decline in its container handling due to a slowdown in economic activity and expects a lower performance when 2016 figures are posted.


PLIPDECO’s management had this to say to Caribbean Maritime about the closure: “The impact on PLIPDECO has so far been felt as a result of the significant reduction in exports of steel products. The impact on the wider economy would have been felt through the loss of hundreds of jobs directly at ArcelorMittal and indirectly through contractors who are no longer required to provide their services and businesses that depend on ArcelorMittal’s products for the manufacture of downstream items. The economy would have also been affected due to reduced taxation revenue from ArcelorMittal.”

Several months later, the uncertainty remains as to whether the plant will ever reopen. PLIPDECO told Caribbean Maritime: “The operation is in liquidation and at this point it is too early to tell whether the plant would be sold to another operator and operations will recommence or whether the site would be given up for another type of operation.”

As one door closes, others are bound to open. PLIPDECO is, of course, always looking for new tenants and there is positive news on the horizon with those in the energy sector related to logistics said to be showing strong interest in Point Lisas as a location.

It has been in the pipeline for some time; and plans to further develop and expand the port are still being considered. As the Corporation told Caribbean Maritime: “Conceptual designs are being finalised prior to presentation and approval from the relevant authorities.” Once approved, this expansion project will no doubt herald a second half century of success for PLIPDECO.

PLIPDECO celebrated its 50th anniversary on 16th September 2016. Clearly, the port and its industrial complex have come a long way since 1966 and this was highlighted on the day.

Among the activities to celebrate the anniversary include:

  • An Interfaith Thanksgiving service for staff on 16 September
  • The publication of an anniversary edition of the PLIPDECO Handbook
  • A series of advertisements in the mass media including a newspaper supplement where stakeholders were invited to mark the occasion alongside the Corporation
  • The hosting of a national school quiz for secondary school students to educate, involve and share information with them on the Corporation's history, operations and development
  • A long-service award function for employees






Price may be key factor in T&T bunker ambitions

As a major energy generator and significant oil refiner, Trinidad is clearly one of the Caribbean’s top bunkering points. Trinidad has an estimated annual supply capacity of around 700,000 tonnes in a regional market thought to total around 15 million tonnes. Trinidad is second only to Sint Eustatius in terms of market size. Yet concerns exist about the price of bunkers, the availability and capacity of barges and draught restrictions at some T&T ports. As a result, suppliers are seeing business for larger vessels in particular move elsewhere. Jamaica is cited as providing particularly tough competition.

At present, T&T’s Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries has licensed two bunkering companies to operate in the sheltered Gulf of Paria. They are Petrotrin, based at Pointe-à-Pierre, and Ventrin Petroleum, a wholly owned subsidiary of Suriname’s Staatsolie, which operates out of Point Lisas.

The National Petroleum Marketing Company (NPMC) buys product from Petrotrin and then sells and supplies bunkers ex-wharf at its Sea Lots terminal and by road tankers at all authorized ports in T&T including Chaguaramas, Tembladora, Galeota Point, Point Lisas, Pointe-à-Pierre, Port of Spain, Claxton Bay, Brighton-La Brea, Point Fortin, San Fernando and Scarborough (Tobago). Apparently, Petrotrin’s barge, ‘Marabella’, has been out of commission since 2015.


Ventrin, meanwhile, supplies bunker fuel to international vessels calling at ports and anchorages throughout the island of Trinidad.
In addition, Aegean Bunkering (Trinidad) offers marine port and logistics services. The company is based in Port of Spain and is licensed to bunker ships on the north and east coasts.

Shiprepair project

Trinidad’s planned new shiprepair yard development project (see separate story) will also include bunkering facilities. As Wilfred de Gannes told Caribbean Maritime: “Yes, we will most certainly like to offer bunker services to ships after they have been repaired at our facility or at anchorage.”

For some time, Trinidad had been looking to expand its bunkering operations and tap into the growing demand for ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD). In 2009 Petrotrin announced plans for a new TT$ 500 million ULSD refinery. But the scheme has been beset with delays and “structural and seismic concerns” as well as wrangles with giant Canadian project manager SNC-Lavalin and contractor Samsung Engineering & Construction of South Korea.

The 40,000 b/d plant is still some way from completion at a time when demand for ULSD is growing fast. In July, Petrotrin president Fitzroy Harewood said he was looking to open the plant in early 2018. It had been due to be completed in 2015.

Trinidad’s low sulfur MGO already meets TTBS 569:2011 specification and has been issued with certificates of quality from Petrotrin, says Shameel Mohamed of the NPMC. But low sulfur MGO was priced locally at just over US$ 850 per tonne in late August compared with just over US$ 300 for high sulfur fuel oil.

So, with these key developments on the horizon, perhaps there is hope that Trinidad can retain some of its pre-eminence in the Caribbean bunker market. But more competitive prices might be an even bigger factor.






La Brea project to up existing capability

Planned shipyard ideally placed for LNG carrier work


A project to design, build and finance a new US$ 500 million shiprepair facility at La Brea in south-west Trinidad was given the go-ahead earlier this year.

Proposed by the Shipbuilding and Repair Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SRDC), this large-scale industrial project is endorsed by residents and environmentalists alike. It will create opportunities for the twin-island nation to drydock and carry out alongside repairs to vessels of up to 366 meters in length (new panamax size) and beyond.

The planned new yard builds upon Trinidad's long-standing shirepair capability and will draw upon local expertise and the highly skilled workforce that is already available on the island.

The project’s contractor is the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), which is expected to complete construction of the new shipyard in 2018. Project financing was arranged by the Trinidad and Tobago government and the Export-Import Bank of China.


The shipyard’s chief executive, Wilfred de Gannes, says he anticipates a directly employed workforce of about 600 employees at a one-third utilization rate or 1,200 employees at two-thirds utilization rate (in effect, full capacity).

The key to the project’s rationale and future success can be summed up in three words: liquefied natural gas. The lifting by the United States Congress of its 40-year ban on exports of crude oil and the ending of restrictions on the sale of LNG, together with the commissioning of Cheniere Energy’s key Sabine Pass LNG terminal in Louisiana, have made the decision to proceed with the La Brea project timely.

Now that the ban is lifted, the US is switching from a net importer of natural gas to a net exporter – especially with the expected completion of five large-scale liquefaction plants for converting natural gas to LNG. It is estimated that by 2020 there will be a need to service an additional 100 newbuilds for the ocean transportation of LNG out of Louisiana and Texas as a direct result of the ongoing development and commission of five new LNG liquefaction plants in the US.

The commissioning this year of the third lock in Panama is shortening LNG carrier voyages to Asia by some 8,600 km and the enlarged waterway can now accommodate 92 per cent of the world’s LNG fleet.

As things currently stand, the new La Brea facility will more or less have the whole Atlantic Basin as a captive market area. The only possible competition, the Grand Bahama Shipyard – owned jointly, of course, by Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Corporation – will no doubt focus on in-house work. This work will include conversions of cruise ships to LNG-dual fueled propulsion as well as LNG dual-fueled engine maintenance, rather than repairs and maintenance to third-party owned LNG-powered ships.


Further signs of optimism were in evidence in August when SRDC reported that it had been approached by a long-established French specialist in the repair of LNG carriers and was finalizing agreements between both parties to commence LNG carrier repairs out of Trinidad in the first quarter of 2017.

Another plus point is that La Brea is close to Trinidad’s own Atlantic LNG four-train liquefaction plant at Point Fortin. Furthermore, Atlantic LNG is set to process additional natural gas from the giant 10.25 trillion cu ft Loran-Manatee field, on the maritime borders of Trinidad and Venezuela. Both should provide business for SRDC. So, with canal expansion a reality and the anticipated hemispheric increase in LNG exports from both the US and Point Fortin, the prospect for Caribbean-based LNG carrier repair capacity is very promising – and it’s no doubt the reason why the French are now so keen to get involved.






Inter-island lifeline

It’s a service that provides an economic and social lifeline for the largely tourist island of Tobago. And this better-than-daily service from Trinidad is provided by the state-owned Trinidad and Tobago Inter-Island Transportation Co (TTIIT).

TTIIT offers an alternative to the high-frequency domestic flights of Caribbean Airlines for those with vehicles and lots of luggage. The ferry also docks right in the heart of Port of Spain, whereas air passengers have to make it into town from Piarco – a distance of around 22 km.

Service operations

The inter-island service is operated by two fast ferries, the 1997-built ‘T&T Express’ (840 passengers and 200 cars/vans) and the ‘T&T Spirit’ (765 passengers and 200 cars/vans). The pair offer a seven-day-a-week schedule. Crossing time for the 32 km route is just two and a half hours.


The two fast ferries are supplemented by the conventional ro-ro ferry ‘Superfast Galicia’, which operates between Trinidad and Tobago each weekday. The day crossing time is about five hours. Night crossings are six hours and passengers can purchase a comfortable cabin and arrive in Scarborough suitably refreshed.

The ‘Superfast Galicia’ can transport up to 112 passengers, 110 trailers and 60 cars and has operated on the route since 2014 when it replaced the ageing and increasingly unreliable ‘Warrior Spirit’.

Ticket prices are heavily subsidised by the government – as indeed are air fares between the two islands – and a crossing by fast ferry is just TT$ 50 for an adult and TT$ 250 return for cars.