THE FEARS and concerns of the workers furloughed from Caribbean Dockyard and Engineering Services Ltd (Caridoc) deserve a more comprehensive response than the Prime Minister’s ardent and robustly defensive declaration that the company is not for sale.
A state company that’s forced to send home 75 per cent of its workforce for three months is signalling a serious problem.
The most crippling issue facing Caridoc is the sinking, in August, 2022, of the company’s floating dry dock, an essential component of its business services.
The floating dry dock used by Caridoc was an industrial scale construction with ballast systems that is submerged beneath a ship under repair then floated to bring the vessel up for repair works.
An industrial dry dock costs upward of US$30 million, depending on the lift capacity and vessel size that the unit is designed for.
Almost a year after the loss of its floating dry dock, there is no clear plan for the replacement of this critical equipment.
Government has put out a tender through Nidco, but that’s a process that’s likely to drag on well past 90 days and possibly into years.
It’s an astonishing turn of fortune for Caridoc, the first major dockyard established in Chaguaramas and a shipyard well positioned through geography as a well-protected deepwater harbour with lift capacity.
It’s an opportunity that’s now being squandered witlessly. It’s been more than a hundred years since the first floating dock was delivered to Chaguaramas in August in 1907 to Ellis Grell & Co.
The Iere was commissioned to replace it in 1966 and the third dock was brought into service in 2006 when the company was bought by CL Marine.
The floating dry-dock service in predecessor companies ran for decades, and there are unanswered questions about the failure of the third dock which sank after just 16 years of service.
The unemployed workers have questions of their own, claiming that efforts to repair the dock before it sank were thwarted by thefts and a rehabilitation effort that lacked rigour and commitment.
Union representative Peter Morris of the SWWTU summarised the problems at Caridoc clearly, asking about job security, the replacement of the dry dock and where the money to keep the business going would be coming from.
The Prime Minister believes that Caridoc is crucial to the country’s economic diversification efforts, but that wasn’t evident in any measures Government took to revive the company after taking control as part of its CL Financial debt-reduction strategy.
The Finance Minister called the move a win-win in 2020. CL Marine was listed as worth $119 million then. Government’s next decisions for Caridoc will define its future as either a valued asset or a millstone for the Treasury.