The Christian Workers’ Union, led by Evan “Mose” Hyde, has been very vocal in its opposition to the fact that most of the shipping of Belizean sugar will now take place at Big Creek Port in southern Belize. This reverses a Musa administration policy, in place since 2006, where all the sugar ships would operate from the Port of Belize in Belize City. This policy shift has come with the Briceno government’s blessing and one that has drawn the ire of the stevedores. BSI’s VP of International Relations Mac McLachlan said that it was not meant to displace stevedores but it made the most economic sense.
Mac McLachlan, VP International Relations, BSI/ASR: “We had to take a business decision for the future of the industry. Now some eighteen months ago I believe that the dredging of Big Creek Port was concluded which meant that Big Creek could now bring in large vessels to load directly from the caye side and that makes a big difference to the efficiency of exporting raw sugar. As you may be aware we have been for decades now sending our sugar in barges and tugs a hundred and twenty two miles up the New River and down the coast where it’s loaded in a very inefficient way into bulk cargo vessels using the ship’s grabs to do that from directly from the barges. Now a year or so back obviously having seen this development at Big Creek we undertook a trial run with trucking some sugar to Big Creek and loading it there. We evaluated that and this is purely a business decisions that we looked at investment at Big Creek to put in a loading facility for our raw sugar and we confirmed that, there was no secret behind this we had alerted Port of Belize City and indeed copied that correspondents to the stevedores. This is purely you know a business decision because what happens is if we tend to load a twenty five thousand ton vessel of Belize City it would take five or six weeks, with the investment we’re putting into Big Creek because of the new draft that exists there for these lager vessels we will probably load the same amount of sugar in five or six days. And what that does is that it means that there’s a much lower freight cost for that sugar and that that benefit will come back and be shared across the industry as cane farmers pay from the revenue share 65% of the freight charges , the export charges. So this was really just a way that we need to keep moving forward, keep progressing with the industry.”
While some of the activity moves south for efficiency and savings, McLachlan adds that work will still be available in the city.
Mac McLachlan, VP International Relations, BSI/ASR: “On the other hand as we mentioned earlier we are increasing the amount of direct consumption sugar that we’re producing. Now that direct consumption sugar is containerized, it’s bagged sugar containerized and as I said this crop is about 50/50 between raw sugar and bagged sugar and I would make the point that all that bagged sugar goes out through the Port of Belize City and as we increase that obviously there will be more and more use of the port of Belize City to export that to those direct consumption sugar so as far as we were concerned look this was simply a business case to improve the efficiency of the industry. Every sugar industry has to be looking at continual improvement in its efficiency in order to stay ahead of the game. The other benefit of this of course is that we were taking our assets out of the new river. We were aware that the river has been stressed in recent years and it seemed appropriate to look at unblocking the bottleneck that existed with our export raw sugar system and in so doing taking our barges and tugs out of the new river as well. So purely a business decision, there was no secret behind this I mean we have been writing to all the concerned parties for a long period of time, we’ve received all the government licenses we need to operate at Big Creek. We signed a thirty year lease with Big Creek Port so I don’t think at the end of the day anyone is going to lose huge benefit because as we shift our DC production upwards you know there will be an increased throughput of containers through Port of Belize City while we export our raw sugars through the only deep water port in Belize.”
The Union estimates that the average annual salary of a stevedore is about thirty-five thousand dollars and most of them reside on Belize City’s south side.