By Althea Engman and Khyomara Santana
In 2021, Guam imported more than $3.4 billion in cars, household appliances, food, and other goods essential to daily life at home or work.
More than 90% of those items were received from cargo ships that come to Guam from California and other ports, and received at the port Authority of Guam, the island’s only public sea port.
It’s why when a ship is late or there’s a problem at the Port, people will often rush to stores to ensure they have the food and other things they need, just in case there’s further delay in stocking up shelves.
Typhoon Mawar caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages throughout the island. The Port Authority estimates $9.3 million will be needed to cover the cost of typhoon damage, and the port is looking to its insurance along with some help from FEMA, according to General Manager Rory Respicio. He adds, “the estimation excludes assessments to both fuel piers which are under assessments to finalize the port’s estimated damages.”
Outside of that work, however, Respicio says the port is looking at additional modernization plans to help ensure the facility is properly equipped and ready to support Guam’s anticipated growth in the near future.
There’s $71 million worth of grant applications that the Port Authority of Guam has been working on in hopes of funding various modernization efforts, to include replacing gantry cranes that are decades old and were damaged by Typhoon Mawar.
The applications were for grants through the Maritime Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Department of Interior.
The port, which handles about 90% of equipment, goods and foods imported to Guam, sustained considerable damage from Typhoon Mawar.
The port has three gantry cranes all of which sustained some damage during Typhoon Mawar, which slammed through Guam on May 24. The port’s crew worked with contractors to repair the cranes – the first as early as May 28 with the remaining two back in operation by May 31 and June 6. However, Respicio says, the cranes are all more than 40 years old and need to be replaced by next year.
In addition to typhoon recovery work, the port continues to work on modernization efforts. Respicio explains that over the last five years, the port has invested $56 million in capital improvement projects to upgrade and modernize the sea port. This includes $8.2 million in completed projects and $47.7 million in active, approved, or ongoing projects.
Additionally, the island’s only commercial seaport also has $593 million in planned future projects that require funding. These critical projects include structural upgrades to the port’s wharves to support new container cranes, the military buildup, and the island’s needs.
Currently, the port’s 2023 Masterplan has been approved by their board and is now going through public input and review for final adoption, Respicio says.
“Looking forward, the port continues to develop its maintenance and capital improvement projects, however, the new Master Plan pivots to a focus on Geopolitical issues and how the port will be able to reposition itself so that the Department of Defense becomes the Port’s biggest consumer,” Respicio says. “Over the past few years, the port has engaged in various in-person meetings with federal partners and Department of Defense (DOD) leadership, including Vice Admiral Michelle C. Skubic, in order to share the Port of Guam’s unique funding challenges and how DOD remains crucial to the port’s readiness and our ability to serve the entire region.”
Respicio says these discussions “are critical as we all recognize Guam’s strategic importance to the efficiency and reliability of the nation’s supply chain. This includes carriers operating in the Pacific and local and military cargo that flows in and out of Guam and throughout the region.”
Respicio says this pivot underscores the need to replace the three existing cranes adding that if just one of those cranes goes out of service it will delay the military buildup by four years. If two of those old cranes go out of service, the port would not be able to meet commercial demand or the DOD mission.
He adds that “the port is in continuous discussion with DOD, as they all recognize Guam’s strategic importance to the efficiency and reliability of the nation’s supply chain.” and with that being said Rory assures the Guam community that “we continue to advocate for Guam seeking U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and the Department of Defense to fund the Port of Guam’s readiness program along with statutory authorization for the execution of funds so that the Port does not become a choke-point in the deployment of military and civilian commodities.”
Following the typhoon, Matson Navigation Co., which had a vessel positioned nearby, was the first to enter the Port of Guam hours after it reopened.
Matson recently deployed its new largest pair of vessels, Matsonia and Lurline, which cost roughly $250 million each. The vessels are part of Matson’s recent $1 billion investment to modernize its fleet. The Matsonia and Lurline will serve Guam every five weeks, Matson officials say.
The company also plans to build three new vessels over the next few years that will ultimately carry cargo for Guam, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands and Micronesia, as well as continuous upgrades to terminals in Honolulu, which serve as a hub for neighboring islands and Guam, Matson officials say.
In response to the Port’s five-year modernization plan, Matson officials believe the company has the vessel capacity to meet the increased demands of its customers and the communities of Guam.
American President Lines Guam, following the storm and through its philanthropic arm the CMA CGM Foundation, sent relief cargo, backup generators to plug in refrigerated containers and containers for temporary storage and housing post typhoon. The group also ensured the safety of its employees and made sure they, and their families were living in stable conditions, according to emailed responses to Guam Business Magazine.
Looking at the next decade, the group’s long-term strategy takes into account bringing in new ships to the trade/region, which will provide the highest levels of service and take care of our environment by reducing the company’s overall carbon footprint, company representatives say.