BY MAUREEN N. MARATITA
While the U.S. Coast Guard is conscious of Guam’s strategic value, the island’s location also offers maritime opportunities that have not yet been tapped to their full potential.
The Guam Chamber of Commerce issued a statement on July 20, listing proposed economic diversification initiatives for Guam. Among them was the ship repair industry.
Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero also raised the issue of improvements to ship repair facilities on-island with U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper when the two met in Guam Aug, 29, according to her office.
This aim is not a shot in the dark.
The ship repair industry on Guam has a long history in the Mariana Islands, but equally one of mixed success. Military vessels that could be repaired in Guam often are not. The U.S. Navy’s former Ship Repair Facility property is no longer being utilized.
Though the Cabras Marine Corp. and its sister companies have a history in the maritime industry, the group added to assets in the ship repair market in May 2012 with the opening of a waterfront commercial yard at the Jose D. Leon Guerrero Port of Guam, according to Journal files.
William H. Calori, chief financial officer at Cabras Marine; told the Journal that his group is working with the Guam Chamber on the initiatives to develop the ship repair industry.
He said COVID-19 has increased the opportunities for the island’s businesses, though there are also challenges that come along with that.
“While the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected many industries, Guam’s designation as a Safe Haven Port has resulted in an increase in port calls,” he said.
Military vessels are unable to call at foreign ports that are locked down, due to COVID-19 protocols, he said. Couple that with the U.S. military’s pivot towards the Indo-Pacific region, and Calori said that is already presenting opportunities for the island. “Demand for services supporting U.S. Navy and Military Sealift Command vessels in the Western Pacific has — and is expected to grow for the foreseeable future,” he said.
But with a limited skilled workforce on Guam, the growing demand in ship repair creates significant challenges both immediately and for the long-term.
Calori said, “Cabras has addressed its immediate workforce needs by establishing relationships with leading ship repair labor providers in the [U.S. mainland], providing workforce surge capabilities for projects of increasing size and complexity. The ability to surge-in a skilled workforce provides significant operating leverage, in spite of the premium cost of the [U.S. mainland]-based labor.”
In addition to this, Cabras is developing a pool of unskilled to lightly skilled workers from other industries who are currently unemployed due to COVID-19, Calori said.
He also pointed to the necessity of offering jobs through the Chamber initiative for the island’s thousands of jobless. “Upwards of 40,000 individuals are unemployed in Guam at the moment, providing a deep pool of workers of various skill levels eager for gainful employment, he said.”
The current ship repair workforce presents other challenges, he said.
“With an aging skilled workforce in Guam, the ship repair industry is facing a longer-term challenge of maintaining a viable local workforce. The average age for Guam’s existing skilled ship repair workforce is between 55 years to 60 years old, with septuagenarians being a regular occurrence. As these aging skilled workers retire, many new skilled workers must be developed to replace them,” he said.
Cabras Marine partnered with Guam Community College in 2019 to offer two Ship Repair Transportation Boot Camps, though the company has offered apprenticeships in the past, according to Journal files. Calori said apprenticeships are still very much part of its workforce development plans.
“Coupled with the Cabras apprenticeship program (originally established in 2012), this Boot Camp is a nursery for high-quality employees entering into the apprenticeship program. The Boot Camps have graduated 42 participants thus far, with a third cohort of 20 participants starting in late October 2020. Program graduates immediately matriculate into Cabras to continue their paths to becoming skilled journey-workers,” he said.
As well as building the capacity of its workforce, Cabras continues to invest in upgrades to its capabilities, Calori said.
In May 2020, the group secured a $1 million matching-grant through the U.S. Maritime Administration’s Small Shipyards Grant Program to purchase a new 175-ton crane (See www.mbjguam.com). Calori said while Cabras has always had “internal crane capacity,” the grant for the crane came with certain conditions, such as establishing a dedicated division for commercial lift services and offering new full-time positions.
Calori said, “This formed part of a $1.7 million investment to enhance Cabras ship repair capabilities in the region.”
In addition, Calori said, Cabras has developed its resources further.
“Construction of a new $600,000 6,000 square foot warehouse was completed in October, enhancing on-site materials and equipment storage. Installation and upgrade of stormwater capture systems at the Cabras F2 pier — in partnership with the U.S. and Guam Environmental Protection Agencies has drastically improved the company’s environmental footprint and minimized potential impact to Apra Harbor and the surrounding area.”
The ship repair industry in the Marianas is a small but active one. Ambyth and its sister company Seafix in Saipan, like Cabras service the Prepositioning Ships in a variety of ways and are awarded contracts for those ships and other work. Cabras has a sister company in Saipan, Saipan Marine Corp. The Guam Shipyard’s Big Blue dry dock is currently off-island for repair. The company said it is currently providing pier-side ship repair services and has an apprenticeship program.
Both Guam Community College and the Guam Trades Academy offer apprenticeships, though there are more vacancies than there are applicants. (See “Apprenticeship program expands; faces challenges,” and “A roll of the dice; labor issues continue to affect Guam,” in the Oct. 5 issue of the Journal and on www.mbjguam.com, and “NMTI may yet receive apprenticeship allocation, other learning options in the works,” posted on www.mbjguam.com on Oct. 13.) mbj