World Investment News (WI): What is your vision for the development of the shipping industry and port infrastructures in Grenada, and what have been your main priorities since coming into office?
Mr. Carlyle Felix (CF): Efficiency has been one of our main concern and focus since coming into office. We naturally want to increase and improve the efficiency of the Port compared to what it was in prior years. We are doing all we can to improve efficiency in our operations in St. George's Port, as well as other ports in the country. Akin to this is the question of customer service as well; we want to ensure that our stakeholders receive a top-notch service.
Another important point which I want to mention is the improvement of our facilities; at the end of 2018 we built a brand new port facility on our sister island of Carriacou. This has been one of our major projects this last year. In all the other areas, we are making sure that our facilities meet the demands and needs of our shipping industry.
WI: What is the impact of the shipping industry in the country's economic revival, and what role does the Port play as a catalyst for socioeconomic development?
CF: With more than three decades of service to the nation behind it, the Grenada Ports Authority (GPA) is today better equipped than ever to play a major role in the economy of the nation.
Recent initiatives and investments by the GPA have been designed to boost Grenada's potential for cargo handling, the cruise sector as well as the tourism sector. All of these bring direct benefits to the economy and people of the country. The shipping industry of course plays a major role in the country's economy, taking into account that we rely significantly on imported products and goods, which mostly come by ship, hence the importance of the industry.
With regards to the port's interaction with the shipping industry, I would like to point out that we, as the Port Authority, are always going to take the necessary steps to engage with them, to meet them and to understand their needs, concerns and priorities. We have to ensure that we are able to accommodate modern ships according to their size and volume, and we are doing all the necessary adjustment steps at our ports, from our cruise ship ports to our commercial ports, to facilitate the smooth flow of goods.
WI: How is maritime infrastructure being expanded and upgraded to accommodate the growing number of imports and visitors?
CF: The past decade has seen many changes in the country's economy and these have been matched by the GPA's vision to develop its range of port services. The initial phase of expanding the main port on the Carenage was followed by the development of the Melville Street Cruise Terminal.
One of the most important recent improvements has been the new port on our sister island of Carriacou. It is a multipurpose port facility which deals with passengers as well as cargo. The facility was designed to give at least a 50-year cycle of expansion for that island, so it can cope and adapt to the expansion and growth of our economy. Before the construction of this multipurpose facility, there was only a small jetty facility with very limited land space. It was therefore mandatory that we construct a modern port looking into the island's future growth.
I want to point out that any significant expansion of the St. George's deep water port is not possible within our present footprint, given the very limited space available. The last expansion was in the year 2000, and we do not have space to expand much further, therefore, we have outgrown our capacity. It is also important to point out that the port's turning basin itself is very limited; it is a natural channel with a very narrow turning basin so we cannot bring very large vessels into it. As a solution to this, we are currently looking into the use of tugs, which will allow those larger ships to come in.
We are looking into some operational changes that will make the port more efficient, and this will permit more cargo in the same footprint. We are also looking into other areas of operations that do not necessarily have to be on the port in order to relocate them. One such area is the stripping of Less than Container Load (LCL) cargo.
WI: Regarding your operations, what are the main challenges that you face and how are you working to overcome them?
CF: One of our main challenges in the St. George's port has to do with our limited yard space. We effectively have outgrown the projected capacity for the number of containers that we are supposed to be handling. Last year for instance, we had so many containers on the port that we had to stack them many levels higher than is recommended or advised, which raised security/risk concerns. In addition, our warehouses have outgrown their capacity as well. Consequently, and from time to time break bulk cargo has to remain in containers much longer than they should. Nonetheless, we are currently looking for land space outside of the confines of the port to construct an inland depot/inland transit shed, so that some break bulk cargo can be moved inland for processing and utilize that warehouse space to accommodate more containers.
WI: What competitive and comparative advantages do you have compared to neighbouring countries?
CF: Our best advantage is our location, as we are close to Brazil and South America. If trading between Brazil/South America develops in the future, we are in close proximity. There is also the Galleons Passage, which is located between Grenada and Trinidad and is one of the biggest seaway routes within this area and it is a very heavily trafficked route. So from a shipping logistics point of view, we have a geostrategic location.
As mentioned before, within the present port structure that we have, our port cannot be significantly expanded and we are too small to handle major transhipment operations. However, from an investment point of view, we have advantages and opportunities that can be explored, including the development of a new port facility.
WI: Grenada has become a partner for China in many areas, and the megaproject Belt and Road Initiative will play an important role in this relation. How are you seeing this megaproject from the Port Authority, and how can you contribute?
CF:If, as we understand, this project will increase shipping and cargo imports through our port, then we as an Authority will do everything within our power to facilitate the speedy clearance of all project and construction materials that are going to be passing through our facilities.
In the past, when major construction projects have taken place, we have usually activated temporary procedures to accommodate the volumes and the speed in which the imports are cleared. It may also mean further revising our policies and procedures to facilitate speedy clearance, or consider the introduction of advanced clearance procedures.
Naturally, if the project is going to review and expand Grenada's infrastructure and trade, then I will readily agree that it should bring significant benefits to our country and its economy.
WI: Training and human services play a huge role in efficiency; how would you define the Port Authority's approach to human capital development, training, capacity building, etc.?
CF: We have to make sure that we have a level of staff that can operate within a modern port facility. We have to introduce greater risk management methods in our port. As a result, we are currently developing a risk management policy. Once it is fully fleshed out, it will help guide our approach to the HR components and development of our organization. In other words, we have to make sure that any new approach or methodology is based on risk assessment and therefore our staff have to be well-trained and must understand how to work with a risk management system.
In addition, once you start looking at introducing new methods and systems, you would have to go through the entire change management process, to make sure that our stakeholders and staff buy in the systems and changes. In other words, we all have to understand what is being done, what are the benefits and what are positive impacts the new systems and methods will bring.
From the marine side, we are currently operating a system where we provide pilotage for the ships when they arrive to our ports. From what we have seen, modern ships require a completely different mind-set, because they are different when compared to the older ships. Consequently, the training of our pilots and our workforce in general has to be different. This is why our current policy is constant training with regards to the pilotage programme, as well as other aspects.
WI: What would be your final message to the 14.6 million readers of the South China Morning Post?
CF: Grenada is open for business, and like I said earlier, thanks to our geostrategic position, between Central and South America and the USA, opportunities for the development of the maritime and shipping sector exist. Investors and interested people just need to come and see what we have to offer.
Unfortunately, we are out of space at the current St. George's port to expand our infrastructure. However, information suggest that government has been looking around Grenada and considering the idea of a new main port, which is something that can interest Chinese and international investors. If that is the case, they need to start having conversations with the government or key institutions such as the Grenada Industrial Development Corporation, in order to look into the feasibility of a new port somewhere in the country. We are out of space in St. George's, and if the projections for growth and trade are correct, then we would need the additional space for port operations.
With regards to the Authority, you are looking at a wealth of experience in the maritime and shipping industry, from cargo to cruise. Our staff are very well cross-trained throughout a variety of areas. It is an experienced and serious organization, and if investors are interested in taping our market and sector, we are here to help them.