Why did the tank cross the ocean?

BY PAUL RODGERS Business Editor rodgersp@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

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A company that cleans shipping tanks for the Scotch whisky industry is setting up shop in Jamaica to service tanks here rather than sending them all the way to Europe and back empty.


Isocon Engineering of Glasgow has teamed up with Jamaican-owned shipper JLB International to launch a facility in Kingston harbour to serve, among others, the rum export business.


Tanks unloading cargo such as milk or orange juice in Jamaica currently have to make the six-week round-trip crossing to Glasgow or Rotterdam between shipments if they're to be cleaned to the highest standard.


The work can also be done in Houston, Texas, but at a higher price.


While nearer ports have similar steam-cleaning facilities, they typically use an automated process.


Isocon/JLB International Ltd will also lower workers inside the 25,000-litre tanks through a manhole to check that there is no residue left from previous cargos that could contaminate future loads.


The company will be equipped to remove, clean, refurbish, calibrate, and reinstall the tanks' safety valves, where contaminants are most likely to linger.


"Scotch is a finished product; There's a distinct aroma," said Isocon owner Michael Kane. "Any small taint will jeopardise the flavour of the whisky.


If distillery workers detect even the faintest whiff of a contaminant in an empty tank, they can send it back to the carriers, said Beverley Johnson, JLB's Jamaican owner, who is based in Britain.


"All eight major tank operators in the Caribbean are eager for us to get started," she said.


The new company could also serve as a storage compound for tanks, with enough room for 1,000 of them in ranks three-tiers high, she said.


Diageo, the British drinks company that owns Red Stripe beer and Captain Morgan Rum, has signed up to send 14 tanks a week to the new 55,000 sq ft outdoor facility.


Cleaning and refurbishing typically costs between US$300 ($26,000) and US$500, a fraction of the cost of hauling a tank around empty.


The U$500,000 project will employ six people initially, and possibly twice as many within two years, Kane said. The workers will travel to Scotland for training.


The equipment is already en route to Kingston and the company hopes to be able to open in mid- to late June.


Although the investment is relatively small, it could have a big effect on the Jamaican spirits industry's competitiveness, reducing costs for local producers.


And it is part of plans to upgrade Kingston Harbour in preparation for the opening of the Panama Canal expansion in 2014.


"It's a small drop in the ocean in dollar terms," said Anthony Hylton, the Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce.


"But what is exciting for us is that they aim to make Jamaica their regional hub, meaning that all of the specialised equipment anywhere in this hemisphere will be backhauled to the Kingston port, maintained cleaned and recalibrated," Hylton said.


"It is significant for the region because 85 per cent of rum exports to Europe come out of the Caribbean."


The tanks are built to fit inside rectangular International Standards Organisation frame for intermodal shipping, so that they can be carried on ships, trains and semi-trailers just like a 20 ft freight container.


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