Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 6th 2017 Contents BG18 | COMMENTARY
BUSINESS GUARDIAN guardian.co.tt JULY 6 • 2017
The Droghers Act
As a twin island state, move-
ment of cargo by sea between
ports within each island and
between both islands should
be a no-brainer. Instead, the
process can be so inefficient
and burdensome that international carriers
opt to call at only one port, and cargo that can
effectively be moved by sea instead has to be
moved by road and by heavily subsidised ferry;
in the case of Tobago. The single piece of legis-
lation responsible for this is the Droghers Act.
The Droghers Act was first passed into law
in 1914 and has since been amended twice; in
1921 and in 1964. On a basic level, the Act was
designed to regulate the movement of vessels
coastwise, as a means of regulating trade with-
in ports in T&T.
This piece of legislation is also mirrored in
the Customs Act as "Coastwise Trading"
far as facilitating regulation goes, the Droghers
-- as it is more commonly known, has long
outlived its usefulness, and now acts only as
an obstacle and a deterrent to efficient trans-
porting of cargo between Ports within T&T,
and even between T&T; which are treated as
two separate states under this act.
Genesis of the Droghers
From an historical perspective, at the time
that the Droghers Act was first passed, T&T,
like many of its neighbours, was a British col-
The British, in an attempt to control their
borders specifically from an influx of foreign
goods from Venezuela at the time, designed
legislation that prevented Spanish cigarettes
and alcohol from finding their way into the
colonies and into what the British considered
They achieved this by ensuring that any
vessel in Trinidad moving by sea from one
port to another was required to be registered
as a drogher. The act was therefore meant to
regulate, control and at the same time derive
some revenues from any such movement along
ports on its coast.
To be fair, somewhat similar "protectionist"
legislation exists in other countries even today.
In the United States, the Merchant Marine Act
of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, is a Unit-
ed States federal statute that provides for the
promotion and maintenance of the American
Among other purposes, the law regulates
maritime commerce in US waters and between
US ports, and requires that all goods trans-
ported by water between US ports be carried
on US-flagged ships, constructed in the United
States, owned by US citizens, and crewed by US
citizens and US permanent residents. This law
would ensure, for example, that any Japanese
fishing vessel fishing just outside US territorial
waters would be restricted in plying its trade
at ports along the US coast.
The major distinction between the Jones Act
and the Droghers Act is utility and applicabil-
ity. Even the name Droghers is indicative of
the datedness of this legislation. A drogher
is defined as "a small craft used in the West
India Islands to take off sugars, rum, etc, to the
merchantmen; also, a vessel for transporting
lumber, cotton, etc, coastwise."
Operating the Droghers
in the 21st Century
Even if the Droghers Act as it stands was
relevant today, the administration of it would
now be done in a vastly different world from
the world that existed then.
At the moment, a vessel that is licensed to
move coastwise, in addition to getting the
Droghers Certificate, also acquires a Droghers
Book. Everytime such a vessel enters a port to
work, the book on board has to be taken ashore
to the Customs & Excise area on the port for
a stamp. The same process has to be repeated
when the vessel leaves the port and the entire
process in repeated on entering another port.
In practical terms, if a vessel arrives at a
"finger" berth, the seaman with the Book
can simply hop off the vessel and proceed to
However, on many occasions if the berth
does not allow this or if the vessel is conducting
its business at the anchorage or is even if she is
waiting at the anchorage before business can
be conducted, the vessel has no choice but to
hire a launch to take the seaman from the vessel
to the shore and vice versa.
The cost of such a hire stands at a whopping
US$250 one way. This means that the average
cost to a vessel, just to transport the seaman
to and from the port is a whopping US$500 to
enter the port and another US$500 to leave the
port. Customs will not even allow the book to
travel on land with greatly reduced cost, but in-
sist that it is done like it has always been done.
Now bear in mind this cost is imposed just
to administer the Droghers Book and is not
revenue to the Government but rather a third
Persons in the sector have been trying with-
out success to effect change in the Droghers
Act for decades! More often than not, recom-
mendations to try new things require extensive
lobbying with no results at the end of the day.
Of course, this old act that could quite easily
be taken off the books since the whole phi-
losophy of trade with Trinidad has changed
so drastically and/or has been replaced with
some modern version.
Given the slow pace involved in legislative
changes in this country, an alternative could
be a change to at a minimum, improve the ad-
Guyana, for example, had such an act, pos-
sible since their location presented the same
problems with the Spanish Main. However,
they have taken it off the books decades ago!
For simplicity, if the powers that be could
amend the process so that this physical
Droghers stamp can simply be an electron-
ic approval, this expensive taxi fare could be
avoided, and the process immediately rendered
The actual cost of the stamp to a customer
with a 7625 DWT vessel is less than TT$50 for
each stamp. It seems barely worth the effort.
Customs of course will gain about TT $225 on
the same transaction!
The entity bearing the cost of this is the in-
ternational vessel doing business here. This
cost is just one of the unnecessary costs to be
borne by an organisation that wants to set up
business here and needs to navigate coastwise.
If one were to examine the case say of a
bunker operator in Trinidad. This cost has
to be passed on the vessels seeking to bunker
here. This additional cost may only succeed
in making the cost of bunkers uncompetitive
in the region, and has the effect of pushing
the customer to another less expensive port.
The cost of bunkers (fuel) is the single larg-
est recurring cost on any vessel, and buyers
are very good at finding ports with the least
expensive cost for fuel.
The Government has commissioned yet an-
other team to look into the maritime sector
with a view to improving its competitiveness
and growing the sector. The maritime com-
munity is waiting with bated breath for the
impact of the committee, and while the an-
nouncement was made nearly a year ago, no
one seems to know who the principals are, and
what their plan is to achieve what is broadly
termed growth and development goals, and
what progress has been made so far.
Nevertheless, given that our Maritime
sector is largely a service oriented one with
a significant export oriented component, we
recommend that legislative reform be given
high and urgent priority.
The importance of trade facilitating legis-
lation and regulation cannot be overstated. A
trade facilitating environment is essential for
attracting foreign investment.
This simplified evaluation examined the im-
pact of one piece of legislation. A follow-up
article in this series will comprehensively eval-
uate how disparate legislation, regulation, and
institutions are stymieing investment in the
How outmoded legislation stifling effective trade, investment
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