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Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Shooting fish in a barrel...A port in any storm?

A lady living in the UK contacted me by e-mail and gave me the details of a somewhat disturbing experience with the Port Authority in Barbados. My own direct involvement with them has been very limited. However, it's no secret that worldwide, ports are notorious for pilfering. The story is as follows:

Just before Christmas 2007, Ms. X shipped some household goods to Barbados via a shipping agent in England who also has a branch office in Bank Hall. The goods arrived in Barbados on December 21. The representative who was collecting them on behalf of Ms. X was told by the supervisor at the port a month later that they were ready for collection; the representative knew the supervisor personally. The representative also had two other barrels delivered, and arrived from USA the day before.

Ms. X wondered whether it was the Christmas holiday or something else (perhaps the general elections in mid-January) that meant that the barrels were held so long at the port but thought something was wrong when her relative rang the shipping agents to be told that the barrels had already been unpacked from the containers. The representative was informed that his barrels from the USA could be collected but those belonging to Ms. X, which had been sitting there for a month, were not available for collection.

The representative was eventually called and told to collect the barrels. Ms. X's barrels were padlocked when they left London but when the representative got to the port he was told that they had been opened and checked through and he was informed how much duty had to be paid.(Interestingly, for the barrels coming from the USA, the representative had been present when they were inspected by Customs, but was not present when the barrels from the UK had been inspected.)

Ms. X's barrels were taken to her home in Barbados and opened by a relative who informed her that all the food and household items (approximately 50 tins of assorted beans, red salmon, tuna, tomatoes plus large bottles of bubble bath etc) that had been sent was missing save for two tins of baked beans (out of 20) and one tin of tinned tomatoes (out of 15). All the red salmon had been taken as were bedsheets. (Ms. X indicates that the "quality" bedsheets (six packages) were missing, but some "ordinary" sheets (two packages) were still there. Pieces of wood to make bedside cabinets were also missing.)

Ms. X telephoned the port supervisor and asked him what had happened to the contents: he denied all knowledge of anything being missing. He did say that he was there when the barrels were opened and that the lid was merely lifted and he explained to her what was at the top, which was correct. When asked about the wood, he said that the wood and the tins were in there. Ms. X wonders how he could have seen the tins and wood, which were right at the bottom, if he only lifted the lid. Ms. X says that he knew the colour of the wood.

If such problems are common at this port one can think of several issues that need to be addressed.

Is this really a major problem in Barbados?
Is the government taking action to deal with it?
Who is accountable to whom at the port?
Should closed circuit television be installed at the port?
Does insurance cover an owner's shipped items?
How much do port workers get paid and is their level of pay one reason that motivates theft?
Do big companies suffer similar losses? If so, does the consumer have the cost passed to them?

Useful background on the subject of cargo theft is in the attached report.

2 comments:

Gio said...

I have not had personal experience with the port, but I have heard lots of stories of parts of shipments gone missing, from private companies and individuals. And anecdotal reports of many port authority works helping themselves to shipments.

Its not to long ago that the port authority workers threatened strike action because of a plan to put CC cameras in place at the port.

Ianrichard said...

Dennis
The answers to your questions are as follows.
Yes
No
No one will tell you
It was installed and caused a customs walk-out. What does that tell you?
Depends on the type of insurance
Port workers have the best deal in barbados. Heavily unionised, they can shut down the country within a week.
Yes, and inevitably, yes