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Barbados Port Inc. – A boom for Bridgetown

At the beginning of the year, Endeavour had the pleasure of speaking with Barbados Port Inc., the overseers of Barbados’ impressive Port of Bridgetown. As the group are continually striving to be ‘Best in Class’, we decided to touch base with the port once again to see how their plans for the future were panning out, and to look at the port’s history as a Deep Water Harbour in a little more depth…

The Port of Bridgetown carries a vast weight of responsibility; through these doors and over these decks pass 90% of the country’s imports and exports. This includes not only goods but also the arrival of tourists, who feed so much of the country’s economy; not only is Bridgetown a trading hub, it is the only port in Barbados capable of accommodating large cruise liners. This much reliance on one facility may seem like a gamble, but Barbados Port Inc. – the company responsible for the maintaining and operating of this vital site – do not fail to deliver. Staying in stride with technology and dodging curve-balls such as hurricanes and the 2008 crash, the Port of Bridgetown has proven that it has resolute sticking power, no matter how the tide turns.

The Deep Water Harbour was opened in May 1961, in a ceremony conducted by contemporary West Indies Prime Minister Sir Grantley Adams. The construction project was the fruit of combined efforts between Barbados and the UK, with British technical experts and consultants working alongside the Barbadian workforce, and much of the funds for the project coming from London or the British government. The result was an uncannily smooth operation, with construction completed without incident – a surprising achievement for the time, for a project of this size and complexity.

As a part of the Deep Water Harbour’s creation, land was artificially built to join what was then known as Pelican Island to Barbados’ mainland. The joining of this island, which used to serve as a quarantine station for passengers and cargo reaching Barbados, added some 90 acres to the mainland in total, the island having originally laid 600 yards out to sea. Amongst the other challenges faced by the construction team was the sheer scale of the project: some 30,000 blocks were used to build the structure of the harbour, weighing up to 20 tonnes each. The blocks were so heavy, railway lines were laid specifically to transport them from where a batching machine created them to the shore. However, the biggest and most notable piece of equipment used for the build was a cutter suction dredger, needed for the for cutting and fragmenting of hard soils below water. Named ‘The Barbados’, it was the largest and most expensive piece of equipment that had ever entered the island, valued at a duty-free cost of $1,920,000.

In his speech at the harbour’s opening ceremony, Sir Grantley said, “We are living in a world that is shrinking”, a comment that has seemed only increasingly true since. He continued, throwing a little judgement at some of the 1960s’ other areas of progress; “While others are playing about in searching out new planets, we are ensuring that export to and from this island is made far easier for all.” He was, of course, referring to the Space Race – whilst the construction of the Deep Water Harbour didn’t compare to this race in terms of cost, and wouldn’t quite make the history books, it was a game changer for transport cargo in the area. The build saw around 600 workers re-gain their jobs – a vast boon to the area – and in its first year of operation, the port handled approximately 175,000 tonnes of cargo.

In its sector and region, the Harbour has continued to make history. Today, its employees handle more than one million tonnes of cargo every year, on top of receiving over 700,000 cruise passengers. With the space to accommodate five mega cruise ships at a time, and luxurious facilities for visitors to enjoy (including all-important elements such as duty-free shopping and air conditioning, as well as popular extras such as live bands and free rum samples!), the port is a comfortable and colourful welcome to the island and all it has to offer. After all, a travel terminal may be a hub of logistics, but it is also, for many, that crucial first impression of a new city or country, the importance of which can never be underestimated.

“This is a country with warm, friendly people who are highly educated,” said David Jean-Marie, CEO of Barbados Port Inc. “Barbados is one of the safest countries in the world, and we also have one of the world’s highest literacy rates. We want to have a port that remains in your memory, and leaves a lasting, positive impact.”

As well travelling to Barbados as a holiday destination or cruise stop-off, many of the holiday-makers treading the boards at Bridgeport are in the area purely as a means from A to B. Barbados Port Inc. have plans to cash in on these extra visitors, hoping they will contribute further to the economy by slowing down to enjoy the island as they pass through:

“We have a plan to develop home porting. That’s where passengers, particularly from Europe, fly to Barbados to take a cruise, and then debark in Barbados again. Currently we have seventeen vessels that do partial or full home porting operations in Bridgetown. Our vision is to encourage a portion of those passengers to stay on the island a few days before or after their cruise. We’re therefore planning to build a $250 million cruise facility just to the south of the port. The facility is all designed – it’s now just a matter of having the right financing structure.”

As well as improving their visitor facilities, the port has ambitions in all areas of its operations. Barbados Port Inc. are working to improve their technology across the board, modernising as well as making bold efforts to go green. The main focus of these green advances is the move from diesel power to electrical. They also involve a co-operative effort with RightShip, which will in turn invite the vessels docking in the port to participate in the drive by monitoring their emissions and rewarding efficient energy ratings with bonuses such as lowered docking fees.

Efforts to modernise have also included updated computer systems such as KleinPort, the company’s latest Port Management Information System, created by Saab Technologies. The software allows the port to streamline their operations electronically, removing miscommunication between departments and assisting in the smooth delivery of cargo processing such as managing cargo manifestos, dangerous goods handling, errors and omission processing and commodity code mapping, as well as allowing customers to track their cargo shipments from their own offices. The system also allows the smooth processing of other port logistics such as vessel scheduling, berth planning, conflict resolution, waypoint and route management, the allocation of staff or ships such as the assigning of pilots and tugs, and even processes such as billing. 

Finally, the port is modernising in terms of equipment, having recently spent a massive $100 million on the restoration of the facility, as well as acquiring five straddle carriers and a new Panamax gantry crane, amongst other pieces. They are also digging and building to expand their capacity yet further, to accommodate bigger cargo vessels alongside their impressive cruise capabilities. Lastly, the port has made the decision to remove tariffs on exports, to encourage greater trade out of the country – a move that will benefit Barbados as a whole, and in doing so, the port.

From optimistic beginnings, backed up by hard work and strong investment, the Port of Bridgetown is living up to the dreams of its founders. Staying ahead means constant transformation, and Barbados Port Inc. have spared no effort or expense.
As Mr. Jean-Marie observes, “This is a modern facility that is completely different to what it was. It has been structured to make sure that it is competitive and that there is maximum operational efficiency. We are striving to become, and expect to be, the best-in-class port in the region, both from a cargo perspective and a cruise perspective; this is a safe, friendly destination with lots to see and do!”

The port’s ambitions are far reaching and all-encompassing, but they have the pieces in place to continue to make them into realities. As always, Endeavour look forward to seeing what lays in store for Bridgetown. If their progress is anything to go by, it sounds like we’d better start booking our tickets!