Kingston Wharves Limited- In the beginning
It all began 17 years before Jamaica gained its independence. The year was 1945. It was a time of pound, shilling and pence; World War II had ended and the novelty of radio broadcasting had not yet worn off (which began in 1939). It was the year that Sir Alexander Bustamante became Jamaica’s first Premier and the great reggae icon Robert Nesta ‘Bob’ Marley was born.
It was also the beginning of Kingston Wharves Limited.
Since Jamaica’s history has always highlighted the importance, advantages and effectiveness of sea transport and with the increasing demand for merchants and trade and more importantly the shipping industry’s ability to positively impact a growing economy, the establishment of this company synchronized with the shipping culture of the Jamaican society and was certainly positioned to secure itself in the region and on the world trade market.
Downtown Kingston was, at the time the place chosen for Kingston Wharves’ operations, which began with the four piers at Princess, Orange, Hanover and East Streets. By 1963, 12 berths were incorporated into the company’s operations. After a while however, it became quite obvious that this location was not suitable to accommodate the volume of cargo and human traffic. These were the days before the application of modern technology and the only way to transport goods was by utilizing pallets, crates and boxes, and of course this meant employing thousands of manpower to handle the job.
Before long, that section of downtown Kingston was bombarded with cargo, workers and customers. This also has to be seen within the context that downtown Kingston has always been the commercial center. So, on the one hand, the old finger piers were literally bursting at the seams and on the other, the city’s growing commercial potentials showed no signs of slowing down.
In addition, it was also observed that the safety of goods being transported was being compromised. The question of durability, security and longevity of products demanded quick solutions that would not negatively affect the integrity of the company. It was around this time that containerization was introduced. And with this introduction, the relevant equipment to handle these containers would also have to be applied.
It was clear to all that this port had outgrown downtown Kingston and it was no longer adequate for a company of this nature, especially if the intention was to expand and develop. The western end of the Kingston Harbour seemed the ideal place for the relocation and in 1964 the decision was made to do just that. Port Bustamante was then created at Newport West. Port Bustamante which of course was named after the Hon. Alexander Bustamante, became a reality after successful negotiations with the government instigated and spearheaded by Luis Fred Kennedy, Charles DaCosta and Moses Matalon.
The first move for KWL was to purchase 56 acres of land and begin the development in phases. In the first phase, three berths were to be completed by 1966 at a cost of approximately 2.2 million pounds and in the second phase which should be completed by 1970, there would be an additional four berths costing approximately 3 million pounds.
The vision at the time was to establish the most modern port in the Caribbean. This new port was first occupied by Western Terminal Limited, owners of berths 1 and 4; then in 1966 Kingston Wharves Limited became operational at its new location with berths 5 to 9. In the early 1970s, a transshipment port was added. The Government had purchased land from Kingston Wharves Limited in order to establish this facility which was then constructed on berths 10 and 11. The management of this transshipment facility was awarded to KWL in 1972 which they managed until 2001 when a Danish company took over the responsibility.
Like any other business or industry, the shipping industry is never without its share of challenges. During the 1970s this was quite evident at Port Bustamante. And with the fierce competition and proposals for greater expansions, there was a need for a regulatory body that had the power to intervene when necessary. The Government therefore took a decision to establish the Port Authority of Jamaica that would now oversee all ports and wharves in Jamaica.
With the Port Authority in place, concerns were highlighted as to the efficiency of operations, the economic considerations and the company’s strategies for sustainability. These concerns, inter alia, prompted the merger between Kingston Wharves Limited and Western Terminals Limited in 1994. And under the new Kingston Wharves Limited, the company went public and in 1995 was listed on the Jamaica Stock Exchange.
The expansion over the years has resulted in Kingston Wharves now as a group of companies. With 1600 meters of berthing space and 22 hectares of open storage, with 30,000 sq. meters of covered warehousing and cold storage, the group consists of Kingston Wharves Limited that has the direct responsibility for terminal operations; Security Administrators Limited that deals with port security services; Harbour Cold Stores for cold storage and cold storage equipment installation and Western Storage and Western Terminals that handles property rentals.
Kingston Wharves Limited is quite appropriately described as a multi-purpose terminal. The nine deepwater berths can comfortably accommodate containers, Ro-Ro, break-bulk and bulk shipping services. For those who are not in the shipping business, the magnitude of the import/export process is often taken for granted. For instance, many cannot visualize a ship that on the inside looks like a huge ‘multi-level parking garage’ that transports hundreds and sometimes thousands of cars, trucks and heavy duty construction equipment. Now just think of the mammoth task of being held accountable for this entire process. Adding to its multi-purpose capabilities, in 2004 KWL began offering stevedoring services which have helped tremendously to increase customer satisfaction while improving the company’s profit margin.
The significance of the level of operations that take place at Kingston Wharves Limited is not lost on the region or the world at large. It is seen as one of the largest and most experienced wharves in the English speaking Caribbean.
To understand the journey, is to fully appreciate the company’s accomplishments. Since its inception in 1945 until 2003, and long before selling its 43.97% shareholding to National Commercial Bank (NCB) in 2004, Grace Kennedy and Co. Limited managed the entire operations at KWL. Now with a new management team in place, there is an injection of renewed energies for further growth and development.
Kingston Wharves Limited has grown tremendously from the days of crates and boxes with as much as 6000 workers to embracing the technological era in all its glory, and on its way to becoming a paperless port with a staff of 200.
Through the challenges of the past, Kingston Wharves Limited has garnered the knowledge and practical experience to face those of tomorrow. The company understands the implications of success to the country’s economical growth and development and has therefore embraced its responsibility to continue to incorporate effective strategies that can encourage sustainable success.