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Docks closure ‘will hit imports’

Unprecedented action: Warren Jones, CEO of Stevedoring Services, explains urgent repairs to the Hamilton docks (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

Bermuda will face an “unprecedented” week without a shipping service as Hamilton’s docks shut down this month for urgent repairs.

The decision to resurface the dock area took distributors by surprise. Jim Butterfield, owner of food distributors Butterfield & Vallis, said that a week’s shutdown at ten days’ notice had “never happened in my lifetime”.

The shutdown was said to be essential for the safety of dock workers.

However, Mr Butterfield warned it would have “a significant impact” on imports of perishable goods like fresh produce.

He added that the island had coped with delays of two or three days because of storms, but he had seen nothing like the planned shutdown in 40 years of business.

Warren Jones, chief executive of Stevedoring Services, said the company faced “no alternative” to closure for resurfacing between March 11 and 18.

Mr Jones added that the company’s concerns had been “consistently expressed since March 2017”.

He said that a combination of factors, ranging from the extra demand for imports throughout the 2017 America’s Cup to budget shortfalls with the Corporation of Hamilton, which owns the docks, meant the infrastructure at the docks had “steadily decayed”.

Mr Jones said alternative docking at Marginal Wharf in the East End could be considered.

He added: “That would be a question for shipping lines.

“Certainly if there is a decision to bring cargo in any other port, we are more than willing to work.”

Mr Jones emphasised that alternatives were “outside our control — but it’s possible”.

Other options were under review last night. Barry Brewer, head of Neptune Group Management, which manages Bermuda Container Line, said the company was busy “evaluating the best course of action”.

The West End Development Corporation, which manages Dockyard, confirmed that BCL had contacted them.

A spokeswoman for the Bermuda Land Development Corporation, which runs Marginal Wharf in the East End, said the group was “open to any discussions”, although it had not been contacted.

The spokeswoman added that the wharf “has been utilised to receive goods via cargo shipment in connection with the airport construction and is currently a viable port facility”.

Joe Simas, vice-president of the Meyer Group of Companies, said that Penno’s Wharf and Dockyard could offer alternatives, with stevedoring equipment or cranes from the island’s major construction companies taken there by barge.

He added: “It would not be ideal, but it would work in a worst-case scenario.”

He said Penno’s Wharf was scheduled to host a cruise ship on March 16 — which made Dockyard the best candidate if needed.

The Corporation of Hamilton, landlord for the Hamilton docks, has contracted East End Asphalt for the work, and Mr Jones said Stevedoring Services would welcome another firm to join the firm if it meant the work was finished faster.

Mr Jones added: “We don’t care who does it. We’re not the landlords. It’s the Corporation. We’re just looking to get it done.”

He described stevedoring as “consistently ranked among the most dangerous industries for workers” and said wear and tear to the docks presented potential life-threatening risks to staff.

Mr Jones said: “It would be contrary to everything that we have been trying to achieve to delay these repairs any further.”

He added that slow periods on the waterfront like Christmas or January might have been a better option.

Edward Benevides, chief executive and secretary of the Corporation of Hamilton, said the city had lacked the budget last year to tackle the issue when it had “started off small”.

He added that the Corporation had a 2018 budget for asphalting the docks which was “established to address the work to be completed”.

Mr Benevides said the Corporation had been working with Stevedoring Services and shipping lines to find the best time for the work to go ahead.

He hoped that the work could be completed quicker than the planned one week timeframe.