A surge in global demand is having a positive impact for Jamaica as a port of call and trans-shipment hub according to Professor Gordon Shirley, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ).
The PAJ is working towards reducing logistical challenges which have developed with the novel coronavirus pandemic, with the agency head expressing the conviction that the future augurs well for Jamaica as the country continues its push to become a greater regional trade and transhipment hub.
During 2020, Kingston ports saw the highest number of vessel calls as well as container volumes in the month of May. Previously such numbers were only seen in 2016.
Professor Shirley told the Jamaica Observer, “In the global context the COVID-19 pandemic, which started in October 2019 and detected in Jamaica in March 2020, has had a positive impact on supply chains as a result of a boom in global trade due to pent up demand.”
This positive impact of the increase in global demand also augured well for Jamaica.
The PAJ, meanwhile, has played a strong role in untangling the logistical challenges of the period.
The increase in international trade had some adverse effects as it resulted in container shortages and congestion at some of the major international ports.
The PAJ head stated, “The response to the COVID-19 pandemic by Jamaica’s port and shipping sector has in general been swift, immediately responsive, and efficiently coordinated among the relevant stakeholders. Systems were implemented to seamlessly facilitate an increase in ship traffic as a result of the increase in regional and global demand.”
Additionally, he stated, the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) has been working strategically and collaboratively within the port community to digitally integrate and automate the processes within the trading sector.
In this regard, he noted, “ the use of the Port Community System (PCS) to manage trans-shipment
activities has been a tremendous advantage for Jamaica. It allows shipping agents/lines to create, submit and electronically pay for all trans-shipment related activities online.”
Under the COVID-19 paradigm, the system allows stakeholders to operate remotely, maintain their productivity while reducing the number of bodies required to physically visit the ports.
The overall effect of the PCS, Gordon Shirley said, is to reduce the time required for importing, exporting, and trans-shipping cargo through our terminals, thereby enhancing Jamaica’s competitiveness as a trading centre.
Trading activity and volumes have risen since COVID instead of falling. Prior to COVID-19, TEU’s stood at 1,441,976 in 2019.
A twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) is a shipping container whose internal dimensions measure about 20 feet long, eight feet wide, and eight feet tall. It can hold between nine and 11 pallets.
This TEU figure pre-COVID rose to 1,453,738 TEU’s in 2020, an increase of 11,762.
So, Professor Shirley outlined, “During the period Jan-Dec 2020, the total container volumes handled at the Kingston Container Terminal (KCT) operated by the Concessionaire, Kingston Freeport Terminal Limited (KFTL) increased by one per cent when compared to the previous year.
Moreover, for Jan-Aug 2021 the volume of containers handled at KCT has increased by 26 per cent above the comparative period for 2020.
Meanwhile, vessel calls to the terminal also saw an increase in 2020 over 2019 with figures of 1,148 and 1,451, respectively.
The PAJ president said, “It is noteworthy that in May 2021, container volumes as well as vessel calls peaked during which KCT handled more than 100,000 container moves and 139 vessel calls. This is a significant achievement for the terminal under KFTL’s management as it is the highest number of vessel calls as well as container volumes since July 2016.”
He said that the respective terminal operators at the island’s ports were able to sustain safe operations by retention and rotation of essential workers, increased sanitisation of workspaces and physical distancing.
Shirley noted that the use of technology through automated processes also positively impacted the continuation of vital operations.
Nevertheless, he admitted, effectively mitigating against the spread of COVID-19 has adversely affected the productivity at the terminal. In adherence to new safety measures and protocols, the consistent need for frequent breaks for sanitisation of staff and equipment resulted in delays in operations.
The PAJ head said data analysis revealed an uptick in trans-shipment volumes in 2021 relative to 2020 when the pandemic began to affect Jamaica.
“We attribute the increased volumes to the reopening of economies within our region as well as the associated consumer demands,” he asserted. “Compared to pre-COVID-19 levels in 2019, the statistics and data are very similar to the current level of activities. ”
The PAJ head said that the 26 per cent increase in the container volumes for YTD 2021 suggests that the volumes passing through the Panama Canal has increased and that KFTL (Jamaica) has benefitted from the increase in volumes.