Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) was primarily an oil and gas economy with downstream industries such as methanol, urea, ammonia and iron steel. It is the largest exporter of methanol and ammonia to the world and the second largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the United States of America (US).
An international firm based in Houston, Texas, USA, which evaluates oil and gas properties and independently certifies the amount of oil reserves, recently submitted its commissioned report stating that the level of proved natural gas reserves in T&T has fallen to harmful levels. The Government of Trinidad and Tobago has determined that it is paramount for future economic sustainability and social stability that the gas-based economy be diversified to allow for alternative avenues of foreign investment, thereby facilitating increased trade and continued industrial growth.
One such key area that has been proposed is the further development and expansion of the shipbuilding and repair industry. Trinidad has been involved in the commercial repair of small vessels such as tugboats, barges and offshore supply vessels for over 100 years, primarily in Chaguaramas in North West Trinidad. One of the proposed sites that have been identified for further development of this development is the new LABIDCO Port Extension and Union Industrial Estate, located in La Brea, South West Trinidad, in an area previously proposed for the establishment of an aluminum smelter complex. The area is ideal due to existing deepwater port infrastructure, sheltered waterfront in the Gulf of Paria, available acreage and local welding and steelmaking capabilities.
Trinidad and Tobago’s maritime industry, although it has experienced some challenging times over the past 25 years, must be considered a vital strategic asset. The industry, with the establishment of new shipyards, would employ more than 4,000 highly skilled workers and create some of the highest paying jobs in the manufacturing industry. These facts are often overlooked because ship repair and shipbuilding activities must inherently take place in some rural communities (eg Chaguaramas, La Brea and Point Fortin, with Port of Spain being the only notable exception). While their current contribution to Trinidad and Tobago’s economy is small – either directly or indirectly – shipyards have a large impact on the overall economic situation both domestically and globally.
The situation the government now faces must be seen as an opportunity – an opportunity to “Develop a world-class shipbuilding and repair industry”, an opportunity to diversify the economy away from the energy sector. The Shipbuilding and Repair Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited strongly urges the Government to consider all aspects of this important sector and believes that it will adequately support and assist in the implementation of the plans as outlined.
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