As the prospect of an ’embargo free’ Cuba draws closer to becoming a reality, the Spanish-speaking Caribbean nation is increasingly focusing its resources on rebuilding its maritime sector to become a force to be reckoned with in the region.
Speaking at the recently concluded 45th AGM, Conference, and Exhibition of the Caribbean Shipping Association, guest presenter Pedro Su·rez Reyes, chair of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) Special Committee on transport and of the International relations department of the Cuban ministry of transport, announced to delegates that Cuba is focused on a “transformation of its port sector. It is currently pursuing an aggressive plan to rebuild and expand its shipping and port sectors, even before the US embargo is lifted,” he told them.
“We have started the recovery of our fleet, our ports, and our logistics chain,” said Su·rez in front of a packed conference room on day two of the conference held in Cartagena, Colombia, from October 19-21.
He also confirmed that port developments were already underway elsewhere in Cuba, including cruise terminals and a multipurpose terminal in Santiago de Cuba.
“We are also working on a multilateral maritime transportation policy that will achieve our vision of what can be done from our geographic position,” he added, noting that this would complement legislative changes enacted in July 2013 when the Cuban Congress approved a new maritime navigation code to modernise the now outdated legislation.
Cuba is also focused on rebuilding its domestic fleet, which was “hard hit by the past decades economic crisis,” said Su·rez. At the Damen shipyard in Santiago de Cuba, the domestic fleet is being enhanced by new builds of up to 100m in length, including tugboats and ro-ros. The new vessels are being used in the river and coastal trades and more vessels will be built “in the near future”, he revealed.
“Obsolete infrastructure, especially lifting equipment” that was not properly maintained has been a hurdle for Cuba, said Suarez, with the main target of the island’s port development being the PSA-operated container facility in Mariel, which opened in January 2014.
Su·rez emphasised that Mariel is being developed as an economic hub and is being promoted to investors as a special development zone offering tax breaks and other incentives.
While noting that the progress on the terminal had been difficult, he declared that Cuba by culture is results-oriented and will achieve its goals.
“Beginning anything is difficult, and we are beginning at Mariel,” he said. “It is precisely the cultural changes needed for efficiency that will be most difficult, but you can be certain they will be done – and in the least possible time.”