Business as usual for Kingston WharvesSunday, March 15, 2020
BY ABBION ROBINSON
Despite the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and eight confirmed cases in the country (up to Friday morning), Kingston Wharves Limited (KWL) CEO Mark Williams says the company will not break stride in its planned stages of development.
“We're not postponing the investment plans that we have. We're doing major work in preparing the terminal for expansion and we have just completed a drainage project in excess of $100 million; we also did an international tender for improvement of one of our water berths. While we're cautiously optimistic, our job is to provide solutions for the country and for the region,” Williams told the Jamaica Observer.
“We can't bury our heads in the sand — it's here. From the shipping industry we have seen many storms and we'll ride this one out. I think we're prepared, and the Government is doing as much as it can with the resources that they have. We just need to be very calm and plan and execute said plan very carefully,” he continued.
According to him, KWL enjoys a robust business model and is not dependent on the container aspect of the business, which makes up for only about 35 per cent of the company.
“As it relates to our business, based on the diversity of our cargo type, we're in a good place — the domestic numbers for containers are up for KWL. Unlike our sister terminal [Kingston Freeport Terminal Ltd], we have no direct service from China. We have trans-shipment vessels passing through China on their way to Kingston and that transit is 30 days, so the effect of the virus would have passed,” he maintained.
The 340,000-square feet multipurpose port terminal operator also trans-ships motor vehicles, grains, lumber and steel.
“95 per cent of cars do not come in containers — they're on specialised car vessels. We did 120,000 motor vehicles moves in 2019 and the majority of that is trans-shipment — it's not for the local market. We trans-ship motor vehicles to 25 countries every month,” Williams revealed.
KWL achieved a net profit of $2.6 billion for the financial year ended December 31, 2019, while annual operating revenue for its terminal operations division amounted to $6.36 billion, due to the increased motor vehicle shipments and handling services for local and regional markets as well as strong growth in bulk and break bulk cargo serviced at the port.
DISASTER PLAN ACTIVATED
In its preparation for COVID-19, KWL has also activated its work-from-home initiative for non-core staff, with 20 per cent now working from home. This includes staff in the finance, customer service, planning for vessel activities, and operations departments.
“KWL is the terminal for disaster recovery for Jamaica — we are used to being prepared for disaster. The staff is fully aware for dealing with protocols like this and we have sent out information to our business partners. We have also asked customers to utilise the electronic platform and refrain from coming to the wharves if they do not need to,” Williams asserted.
This initiative he said, does not pose an additional cost to the company.
“The initial cost is capital expenditure — just laptops, computers, which will depreciate over three years depending on the business model. There's really no additional cost, in fact we're saving on electricity and water usage,” he stated.
“We're looking at having a set of staff probably working two days — so Monday and Tuesday, and another set comes in Wednesday and Thursday, and so on, so that if someone is exposed to the virus we will be able to keep that exposure to a fixed number of people. Rather than shutting down the entire port, we would just isolate those who have worked on whichever two days.”
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