New India-made North-West ferry will ship agri produce to Trinidad; India asked to help solve CARICOM’s food transportation problem

Last Updated on Sunday, 23 April 2023, 20:10 by Denis Chabrol

President Irfaan Ali (red shirt) and India’s Foreign Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (behind him) at the pilothouse of the MV Ma Lisha during the commissioning tour of the new ferry.

The Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) decades-old sea transportation humbug reducing the region’s more than US$5 billion food import bill would gradually be resolved possibly with India’s assistance, and already the new India-made North West District ferry is expected to ship agricultural produce from northwestern Guyana to Trinidad, President Irfaan Ali announced on Sunday.

“We are going to look at CARICOM to work with India on finding the solution for regional shipping needs because shipping is an important part of what we need to move CARICOM forward,” he said at the commissioning ceremony for the MV Ma Lisha, a 297-seater passenger and cargo vessel.

Dr Ali said he has already informed visiting Indian Foreign Minister, Dr Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar who participated in the ribbon-cutting and tour of the vessel at the Demerara Sugar Terminal, that Guyana wanted to explore the role India could play in providing cheap and efficient transportation. “As a region, we took a decision that together we must solve the shipping problem and I see India as an important partner in resolving this,” he said.

The Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) is funding a study to explore options for establishing a Maritime Cargo Service between Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago primarily for the movement of agricultural products.

CARICOM is targeting the reduction of its US$5 billion food import bill by 25 percent by 2025.

Already, President Ali announced that MV Ma Lisha, which is owned and operated by the Ministry of Public Works’ Transport and Harbours Department (T&HD) would eventually be used to ship ginger, turmeric, eddoes, cassava and cage-cultured fish from Region One (Barima-Waini) to Trinidad  which is 11 hours away. “This ship,  a friendship is an opportunity, now to open up a new discourse with India on building on this project to the next project that is replacement of fleet here but more importantly making use of this opportunity of trade between region one and Trinidad and along with the rest of CARICOM,” he added. The Indian Foreign Minister, his address, also remarked that the vessel would be serving the ginger and turmeric growing area of Guyana.

Dr Ali said the US$5 million upgrade of the Port Kaituma port facility to regional standards,  logistics and supply capability to serve Region One and the Caribbean. “Now we can utilize that port facility as a launching pad to ship directly into Trinidad that has a highly developed manufacturing and processing industry,” he added.

Locally, the Guyanese leader said the MV Ma Lisha could transport turmeric to the coastland for processing and export to the United Kingdom (UK) aboard British Airways which recently began scheduled flights on the UK-St Lucia-Guyana route. He also said the crab meat, which could be transported in the ships freezer for perishable goods could be sold on the coastland as a high-value product.

“And we’re not talking about low value commodities. Crab meat, developing a crab industry to get crab meat. Now having the cold storage capacity to bring that crab meat to Georgetown that is currently being imported in high demand by those working in the oil industry,” he said.

The MV Ma Lisha was built in India by Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd at a cost of US$12.7 million through a line of credit by that Asian nation.