Tony Hart, Kirk Line brought modern cargo shipping to the west
As Jamaica’s shipping industry joins the nation in mourning the passing of business mogul and philanthropist Antony ‘Tony’ Hart, the Shipping Association of Jamaica (SAJ) acknowledges his tremendous efforts in successfully bringing modern cargo shipping to Montego Bay.
No one knows more about this aspect of Tony Hart’s role in opening up western Jamaica to the benefits of direct cargo shipping than the president of the SAJ, Charles Johnston.
“Many are aware that Tony Hart was primarily responsible for the development of Freeport, Montego Bay, that created berths for cruise ships,” Johnston said, adding, “but few know of how hard he worked to get regular marine cargo services established for that section of the island.”
In expressing his and the SAJ’s sadness at the passing of the legendary businessman, Johnston recalled that “it was about 1986 that Tony approached Barton Kirkconnell of Kirk Line, and myself, to begin a fortnightly cargo port call to Montego Bay, to carry at least 15 containers on each trip.”
Johnston explained that up until that time, most of the cargo coming by ship that was destined for the western part of the island had to be unloaded in Kingston, clear Customs in Kingston, and then trucked to the final destination.
“Establishing the new cargo service was not easy,” the SAJ president revealed. “The plans for the fortnightly port call did not work initially because importers did not believe that Kirk Line would continue the service. It was a chicken-and-egg situation. The importers would not support the service until they were sure it was definite, and Kirk Line would not continue unless they had enough cargo. Kirk Line gave up twice, but Tony convinced us to do weekly port calls, no matter how many containers, for at least six months.
“We trusted in Hart’s confidence that we would get the support of western Jamaica,” Johnston disclosed, “and within the six-month period we did.” In fact, so successful has been the arrangement that Kirk Line and its successor, Seaboard, still call weekly in Montego Bay.
Johnson asked Mark Hart for what he recalled and this is his comment: “I just remember that we wanted to start the service in Montego Bay and that we needed 15 containers. The garment industry was just getting started, so we launched the service, but it couldn’t be sustained. However, the industry grew the following year and it was relaunched, and has been a success ever since. The stevedores still refer to Seaboard sailings as the Kirk. Barton was a real character and gentleman as far as I remember him, and I think you and Dad felt very comfortable doing the deal.”
“Tony Hart was a true visionary,” said Johnston, adding: “We all grieve at the passing of this great Jamaican, and I take this opportunity to salute his many achievements as a brilliant entrepreneur, generous philanthropist, a devoted citizen of Jamaica, and a great family man. His legacy is now deeply etched in the history of our nation and may his confidence, enthusiasm and love of country continue to live in every Jamaican.”