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National Workshop to Establish a Maritime Transport Policy

May 23, 2023

National Workshop to Establish a Maritime Transport Policy

Today at the Caribbean Motors conference room in Belize City, public and private sector stakeholders in the business of trade, particularly maritime transport, were engaged in a technical workshop, as the country works on establishing a maritime transport policy. It is a crucial document which, when created, will put in place legislation that will guide this economical trading process and its sustainable management. As News Five’s Duane Moody finds out, it also addresses the issue of penalties when ships run aground. Here’s his report.

Duane Moody, Reporting

There has been dialogue taking place, but today public and private sector stakeholders in trade gathered as the country seeks to establish a maritime transport policy. So what is a maritime transport policy and why is it important?

Darlin Gaitan

Darlin Gaitan, Ag. Ports Commissioner, Belize Port Authority

“The sector is really an economic engine for the state and so we must have policy to drive that engine.”

Duane Moody

“Where is Belize in terms of having its own policy?”

Darlin Gaitan

“We don’t have a maritime transport policy as yet and so this is a conversation that is imperative for us as we believe that the sector provides a lot of opportunities for trade and developments, specifically most of our trade comes through out ports and so we need to have some form of policy direction to ensure that the sector is built for the sector, is future-proofed, so that we can continue to trade, we can continue to benefit from shipping, we can continue to attract marine tourism and marine recreational users. And so that requires policy direction and collaboration among the various stakeholders that operate within the space.”

On the ground, there are two cargo ports used in the trading of goods: Port of Belize Limited in Belize City and the Big Creek Port in the south. And then there are two cruise ports: Harvest Caye in the south and Fort Street Tourism Village in Belize City.  Acting Ports Commissioner Darlin Gaitan speaks of issues that have been identified due to the absence of a policy.

Darlin Gaitan

“We do have issues such as marine environmental regulations; we also have issues of port development and infrastructure to ensure that our ports are adequate for the shipping the calls, the shipping of the future, where those trends are going and to ensure that we are connected to the shipping sector. There are issues, of course, with any sector in terms of sustainability. What is your environmental impact, not just economic benefits, but what is your environmental impact to the state and how are we, as regulators, as players within the sector, ensuring that we are indeed we are aiming for the sustainable development not just development at the expense of the environment.”

So the workshop seeks to capture the various aspects of the industry, including policy, and strategize action plans going forward. That technical support to draft the policy is being made possible by way of a partnership with the International Maritime Organization. Deputy Director of Subdivision for Programme Management and Coordination Technical Cooperation Division for IMO is Jonathan Pace. He says that at the core is the sustainable management of the sector.

Jonathan Pace

Jonathan Pace, Dep. Dir., Subdivision for Programme Management and Coordination Technical Cooperation Division, IMO

“It provides successive governments and administrations with guidance documents for planning and decision-making. Now the transport sector, specifically the maritime transport sector, which is very important for Belize because Belize depends on shipping mainly for its trade is no exception. Hence the reason why the IMO has in the last few years been promoting the concept of a maritime transport policy and strategy with the objective that countries have a plan on how to sustainably manage the maritime transport sector.”

The policy, when drafted, will look at the issue for vessels that run aground, and to ensure that the penalties are proportionate to the impacts and not a slap on the risk.

Darlin Gaitan

“That is a very good observation because that is one of the risks associated with shipping. Yes, it is an environmentally friendly mode of transport compared to aviation and compared to road and it is very cost efficient because it makes use of economies of scale. However, there are environmental impacts to shipping such as the groundings and oil spills and all of those things. And so that is one of the issues that is going to come to the forefront. Are we prepared for these eventualities? Are we prepared within the legislation to ensure that the penalties are in some form as they should be desensitizing this kind of activity? So if there is a slap on the risk, then the state is not protected and then there is no desensitizing for those would-be polluters or those who would cause irreparable harm to our marine ecosystems.”

Following the workshop, the maritime technical committee comprising heads of maritime agencies will then look at the drafting of the policy, which will later be presented to cabinet. Duane Moody for News Five.