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Ports Commissioner Major Gilbert Swaso details two years of successes at the Port Authority

Posted: Monday, October 17, 2022. 7:27 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: Two years have flown by for Ports Commissioner Major H. Gilbert Swaso, who was appointed in 2020.

And as he looks forward to the future, he told us he has reason to be proud of where Belize is now as a maritime nation – and where we can go.

Swaso, a former Maritime Wing officer of the Belize Defence Force (BDF) before retiring to become a full-time marine surveyor, had served as operations and training officer at the Belize Port Authority (BPA) and Deputy Ports Commissioner before his current post. The former mayor of Dangriga Town is the first Garifuna man to be so appointed.

On his return to the Port Authority, his initial review of the organization’s structure was intended to “move the Authority forward and ensure that we became more visible as an organization” and better position it to meet national and international commitments.

On the national level, a new office was established in Placencia to join those in Independence and Belize City, and the Authority is part of the San Pedro Town Maritime Safety Committee. The Port Authority worked on keeping the mouth of the Haulover Creek open for vessels to navigate with the establishment of a Dredging Committee, revised legislation for the Belize Port Authority Act, Marina Regulations, and Water Taxi Regulations; established a five-year strategic plan; and restored financial benefits for managers and staff and established financial measures to bridge the Budget gap.

The authority also surveyed the status of Marinas, boatyards, and piers/wharves in Belize to regulate this industry.

On the international stage, Belize is the focal point for the Caribbean region for the GreenVoyage2050 Project, a partnership project between the Government of Norway and IMO launched in May 2019, aiming to transform the shipping industry towards a lower carbon future. The project has provided funding for the drafting of the first Maritime Pollution Prevention Act which is ongoing.

Belize is involved in the Blue Port Project with support from the World Bank, and Swaso recalled visiting Jamaica to share our experience in developing maritime digitalization with his colleagues.

For the next two years according to Swaso, the Port Authority will be focused on implementing the International Maritime Organization (IMO) “single window” for data exchange, intended to standardize the electronic exchange of information required on arrival, stay and departure of ships in ports and combine or coordinate the electronic transmission of the data to ensure that information is submitted or provided only once and reused to the maximum extent possible. This will be mandatory after January 1, 2024, by the decision of the IMO in May.

The other major project is preparing for a mandatory audit of Belize’s port and maritime systems to be conducted in 2024, eleven years after Belize failed a voluntary audit.

The Port Authority will be joined by Belize’s other marine-related enforcement and regulatory agencies – the Department of the Environment, the International Merchant Marine Registry (IMMARBE), the Belize Coast Guard, the Ministry of the Blue Economy and others and a technical committee has been formed to oversee both projects. Swaso emphasized that there will be repercussions if Belize fails to implement either project on time, as 80 percent of Belize’s imports are shipped through the container ports at Belize City and Big Creek.

Swaso also noted that the Port Authority is involved in projects to encourage more women to enter the maritime industry and increase the Authority’s public visibility.

In all, Swaso says, Belize has advanced in the area of maritime regulation, but still has much further to go, and while he cannot control what happens next, he hopes his record will allow him to continue the good work the Authority has been doing.


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