Port Canaveral officials are starting to focus on Cuba as a future market for both cargo and cruise business.
Three port representatives will be part of a group of about 50 local residents visiting Cuba next month as part of an educational tour organized by Chamber Explorations, a California-based organization.
While the port officials can’t make business deals under current trade restrictions with Cuba, there’s no saying they can’t tell the people they visit in Cuba about the port and the Space Coast, according to Canaveral Port Authority Chairman Jerry Allender, who is among those going on the trip.
“We’ll be doing whatever we can to try to represent Port Canaveral,” Allender said. “There’s great potential for Port Canaveral for doing business in the future” in Cuba, considering President Obama’s support for easing trade and travel restrictions involving Cuba.
“We’re getting our feet wet” by “building relationships” in Cuba, Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Walsh told port commissioners on Wednesday.
“It’s fertile ground,” Port Commissioner Wayne Justice said.
Walsh concedes, though, that the time frame for cruise or cargo ships sailing from Port Canaveral to Cuba is “anybody’s guess.”
Currently, only food and “humanitarian aid” can be shipped from the United States to Cuba, in certain limited circumstances, and Port Canaveral is not involved in those shipments.
Walsh said cruise lines are always looking for new ports of call to offer their frequent customers. He said Cuba has three potential cruise locations that could provide cruisers with three different experiences — if cruise lines are allowed to stop there.
“It’s a beautiful island,” Walsh said. “For us and the cruise lines, it would be phenomenal.”
Joining Allender on the trip to Cuba will be Jim Dubea, Port Canaveral’s deputy executive director for government and strategic partnerships, and Alberto Cabrera, the port’s senior director of cargo business development.
“I know the potential there,” said Cabrera, who previously visited Cuba when he worked for a shipping company called Trailer Bridge.
“We need to be informed” about the current status of the Cuban economy and where there may be opportunities for the port, Cabrera said.
On the cargo end, Cabrera said, that could mean opportunities for exports to Cuba of everything from construction and agricultural equipment to food and clothing.
The potential easing of trade restrictions with Cuba comes at a time the port is gearing up its overall cargo operations for growth.
Port commissioners on Wednesday finalized their deal with GT USA to lease and operate a cargo terminal at the port, confirming an initial deal announced in June.
Peter Richards, managing director of the Gulftainer Group of Companies, said he expects the company’s GT USA operations to begin in April.
Port Canaveral also will be the headquarters for GT USA’s North and South American operations.
Richards said GT USA will employ 50 to 100 people at Port Canaveral for its local cargo container operations, depending on business volume, and 20 others will be based there as part of the corporate staff.
Users of the container terminal will ship “anything from foodstuffs to electronics,” Richards said.
Port Canaveral, with expanded container operations, including the addition of two special container cranes, is becoming more attractive to cargo shippers, Richards said. The port also offers relatively easy channel access from the ocean, a deep channel bottom that can accommodate large cargo ships, and access to the lucrative Central Florida market.
Richards deferred on estimating how much cargo business will increase at Port Canaveral.
“The proof will be in the pudding,” Richards said.
PORT OFFICERS ELECTED
Canaveral Port Authority commissioners unanimously elected the following officers on Wednesday:
Chairman: Jerry Allender, the former vice chairman
Vice chairman: John “Hank” Evans
Secretary/treasurer: Tom Weinberg, the former chairman
Dave Berman, FLORIDA TODAY
January 21, 2015
Contact Berman at 321-242-3649 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @ByDaveBerman and on Facebook at facebook.com/dave.berman.54.