One of the nation’s main rum exporters has blamed a series of “inefficiencies”, working hours and a lack of berthing space at the Port of Bridgetown for preventing rum from becoming a billion-dollar business for Barbados.
In turn, the way the port operates is also leading to high demurrage fees, usually charged by shipping firms to discourage keeping containers past a defined period, officials of the West Indies Rum Distillery Ltd have told Barbados TODAY.
The distillery’s executives said they are eager to build out the operations and export more bulk rum, but are being held back by the port’s current operations.
Between 96 and 98 per cent of the rum produced by the company, which makes the Plantation Rum brand, is exported.
Distillery owner Alexandre Gabriel, of French cognac maker Maison Ferrand, who bought the rum refinery two years ago, told journalists ahead of a tour of the Brighton facility with government and port officials, that he was eager to do more to contribute to the growth of the economy.
But, he said, improvements in business processes would make it possible “for the team here at the West Indies Rum Distillery to be able to take rum further”.
Pointing out that rum can be “more important” to the country, Gabriel predicted that the contribution of rum to the Barbados economy could leap from the estimated $80 million currently, to reach $1 billion by 2030 once required changes were made.
Managing Director Andrew Hassell said the “inefficiencies” at the Bridgetown Port were resulting in delays and unnecessary charges in some cases.
“Frequent malfunctioning of scanners” that have become a mandatory part of port operations were leading to a delay when entering tanks and containers into the port, he said.
He also pointed out that there were delays in the release of tanks and containers from the port due to “computer crashes”.
But Hassell said perhaps the most concerning issue was the port’s hours of work, which leads to the company incurring demurrage charges.
Pointing out that shipping companies allotted them between 10 and 15 days to clear their tanks from the vessels and return them with more products, Hassell said they counted weekends in those days.
But with port officials not working on weekends and the port closing before 5 p.m. on weekdays, it “puts us under a lot of pressure”, he said, incurring charges to the shipping company.
West Indies Rum Distillery averages about $75,000 per year in demurrage charges, he said.
The rum executive said the timing in which documents were provided to brokers and getting a customs officer to un-stuff containers were also some of the factors resulting in more demurrage charges for the company.
The company takes over 100 trucks per day to the port for shipment while over 130 are released from the port per day.
Hassell also complained to government officials on the tour about the cross-berth for molasses-transporting vessels, saying they were unable to berth once cruise ships were docked in the port, and this was resulting in the company incurring more charges.
The larger berthing area was abandoned after it was found some years ago that it was in need of repairs.
After listening to the rum company’s concerns, Government officials gave the assurance they would be addressed, and set up a meeting with industry figures next week.
Chairman of the Bridgetown Port Inc., Senator Lisa Cummins, told reporters that having identified some of the “problems, bottlenecks and cost-related issues” facing companies, thorough measures would be put in place to help to facilitate a easier trade.
She said the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry has already been contacted in order to discuss issues facing the private sector and individuals and to identify solutions.
Senator Cummins said: “Within the next year you are going to be hearing a very different conversation taking place in Barbados from our business community if we get this right, and we are committed to doing just that with the help of our minister and the ministry.”
Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey said he was keen on fixing all the issues that were negatively affecting businesses dealing with the port, but cautioned that some of them would take some time.
“We are committed to fixing these inefficiencies. What you can see that was missing here was dialogue,” he said.
Insisting that the rum industry’s contribution to the economy could be increased “seven or eight times more”, Humphrey promised that a “bigger vision” for the port would solve current challenges while creating future opportunities.
“In order for us to be sustainable we have to be innovative in the first instance and then help those who are operating in the commercial space, the industrial space, to achieve the things they set out to achieve,” he said.