Taking port expertise to the next level

Taking port expertise to the next level

As seen in the report “Trinidad and Tobago: Powering to the next level distributed with USA TODAY

Introducing new technology and purchasing the very latest equipment will have an immediate impact on marine transport  


For more than 100 years there has been port activity in Trinidad and Tobago, with the Caribbean country having a significant impact on the marine transport world thanks to its enviable geographic location. 

While there are a number of ports on the islands, the largest and most modern container handling facility is the gateway to the nation’s capital: Port of Port of Spain (PPOS). Located in a sheltered natural harbor, this government-owned port provides ships with easy access to the the rest of the Caribbean, the Far East, Europe and the eastern seaboard of the US. 

Not only is it extremely well connected, but its workforce boasts expertise that is on par with the very best in the world, enabling the port to offer its clients a full range of first-class services. In relation to cargo handling, those include berthing for international container vessels, towage, freight services and warehousing. PPOS is also home to the inter-island ferry service that transports people, vehicles and cargo between Trinidad and Tobago, plus it welcomes numerous cruise ships every year.

While the knowledge of the highly skilled personnel at the port is second to none, the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago — which is responsible for PPOS’s facilities and services — is always looking to improve its offering and has ambitious plans to ensure all of its operational areas are on par with the world’s best marine ports. 

This will require the introduction of more of the latest technology and state-of-the-art equipment, which will put the authority in a better position to realize the potential of PPOS.


Closing the gap

The person tasked with achieving this feat is Lyle E. Alexander, chairman, Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago. A graduate of the UK’s famed Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, the retired army colonel has worked hard to make sure that the port is as efficient as possible. 

“Getting the port’s executives to work together was an extremely important part of that,” says Alexander. “This is what I did in the military, I brought people together to work as a unit. When I first joined the port organization, I found this to be a gap and I needed to get the executives to function as a cohesive team. They have certainly lived up to the expectations and the trust I placed in them.”

While the team has come together and excelled, Alexander has still identified further areas in which the port needs to strengthen. He says: “We function as a public port and, given the rapid advances in technology and different models of port operations around the world, others in the global industry have moved ahead of us. 

“Having accepted this gap in our operations and the potential that we have as a port, we believe there are a couple of areas that we can optimize. One is transshipment. We are in a great position to act as a feeder to the Caribbean and Latin America, especially now that Guyana is becoming so active. 

“The entire world is moving toward containers as well. We have been doing a pretty good job at PPOS in terms of moving boxes, but we think we can move more as we have underutilized berths.”


Building for the future 

The Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago also wants to improve its transshipment potential throughout the region and hopes to attract larger vessels that will improve productivity. But for this to happen, it wants to first upgrade the infrastructure within the port — such as its cranes, trucks and other vital equipment — to further boost its efficiency. This requires significant investment and Alexander is currently working on a request for proposal for a public-private partnership at the port. 

“We think we can better maximize our potential if we partner with a private investor,” he says. “We are looking for an investor that can come in with its own vision and can work with us to minimize the gaps we have in the areas that we have identified as offering the greatest potential moving forward.

“Since COVID-19, the shape of this business has been changing and we see different types of patterns emerging in the industry, but the one thing we are sure about is that ships will continue to sail and boxes will continue to be moved. 

“We are hoping an investor will be willing to look at the risks and opportunities PPOS presents and that they will decide to fund activities here. Based on the initial analysis that we have carried out, the data shows there would be a good return on investment — so we are very excited and hopeful that someone will be knocking on the door soon. In fact, we have already received quite a bit of interest from Europe.” The Trinidad and Tobago government is fully behind the PPP project, as is the Inter-American Development Bank, which has stated that it is committed to supporting the authority to help bring the PPP to fruition. 

While it will be the first time that the port authority has engaged in a PPP, it has a proven track record when it comes to working with international partners. 

“All the big projects we carry out at PPOS involve large-scale international companies — dredging, for example, is one area where we’ve had a successful international partnership, while our cranes are built in Ireland,” says
Alexander. “In addition, we are members of most of the international associations related to marine operations and transport. Through those engagements, we have formed strong relationships at the global level. We are familiar with working in collaboration with international agencies, which means there are no issues in this regard that might deter someone from working and investing in Trinidad and Tobago’s port operations. Right now, we are the only public port in the Caribbean basin, which speaks to where we are in terms of world-class operations. Having said that, we are extremely confident about the capability of our people and about our history in the sector. So, we have the correct mindset to succeed.”

Alexander believes that Trinidad and Tobago’s economy presents a wealth of possibilities for incoming investors across various sectors. “However, I would suggest that the marine transport and cargo-handling area presents a particularly excellent opportunity for investors that want to expand their global reach when it comes to moving cargo,” the chairman asserts. “I would say to all potential investors: come on down, PPOS and the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago are open for business.”