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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Port of Santa Marta, Colombia

Port of Santa Marta

The growing port of Santa Marta Colombia is a remarkable location for many reasons.  First, it sits on the Caribbean Sea at the northern tip of South America just at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Santa Marta is a natural deep port, sheltered and basking in one of the best climates on the planet, this was the first city founded by the Spanish back in 1525 primarily because of the ideal port location.  The port iteslf has great capicity, it boasts post-panamax capability with a deepwater approach and >60 foot draft dockside in a natural seeing with no dredging required.  

Cartagena is the largest port in Colombia and is Colombia's main oil exporting port.  Intermodal traffic is being expanded and is expected to handle between 6 and 7 million TEU's within in two years. Cartagena is home to a variety of private ports including Dole, BASF, Cemex, Dow Chemicals, DuPont, and Reficar SA.

Santa Marta enjoys a different product mix.  Santa Marta a port authority that is a publlic/private parthership.  The largest export from Santa Marta is coal mined from the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  In addition, the port accomodates roll on roll off (ro-ro), grains and intermodal.  The port is ISO 14001 certified and has the distinction of being the first port outside of the European Union to be officially named an environmentally friendly port or a "green" port.  

Considerable capital investment was required to deliver the green port status.  Much of that has to do with how coal exports are handled.  Structures have been constructed to reduce wind impact, semi lifts have been installed, hydrochemical dust management systems prevent the excape of coal dust during the unloading process into a closed auger system that delivers coal to the bulk ships. This has preserved the undersea environment surrounding the port which is healthy and thriving.  In order to maintain the certification, the port is inspected including the undersea areas.

Closed Coal Auger
Santa Marta is blessed by a number of interesting geographical conditions.  Storage and shipment of dry grains is facilitated by the wind that sweeps down from the Sierra Nevada mountains out to the sea, this makes it relatively dry compared to many sea ports.  With nearly 600 plug in stacks in the intermodal yard, the refrigerated export capacity of Santa is ideal for exporting bananas and various tropical fruits.  Fyffes service calls at the port of Santa Marta and serves Antwerp in Belgium and Portsmouth UK and provides fresh bananas to the tables of Europe and the UK in addition to the port ro-ro, dry bulk, grains, and other reefer products.  Santa Marta also handles general cargo, typically moving oil and gas drilling equipment along with some dredging equipment.

Fyifes - Bananas headed to UK and EU

Barranquilla is a large port that enjoys fresh water shipping access via the Magdelena River and is a home to a large zona franca that confers tax benefits and exclusion from duties until point of export or after value add activities.  The zona franca of Barranquilla is very large in terms of industrial presence with the most important Colombian companies holding a presence in this particular port due the the large zona franca.  Santa Marta also has a zona franca, mostly utilized by ro-ro traffic.

Ro-Ro Load to Zona Franca
What's next?  It occurs to me that Colombia invested heavily in road networks prior to the strong emergence of intermodal traffic.  That road infrastructure investment resulted in moving a lot of ocean going exports not tied to a particular area of production, like coal, and shifted it to the Pacific port of Buenaventura.  After driving the mountains of Colombia, it occurs to me the value of lost time due to traffic congestions creates a negative impact to gross domestic product data, social impacts, and lost productivity directly resulting from traffic congestion throughout the national highway system. These matters are obviously compounded by environmental damage.

Port of Santa Marta from the beach
Rail in Colombia is not extensive and the major population centers are not well interconnected.  The wildcard in this is China's appetite for coal, and Colombia is one of the largest producers in the World. China is considering investing into a rail line between the Port of Buenaventura and Cargegena.  This would be a rail line that could compete with the Panama Canal in some respects. If a rail line between Cartagena and Santa Marta is built, there would be intermodal connectivity between Bogota, Medellin, Santa Marta, Cartagena, and Buenaventura.  Such a rail line would start transnational access with over 10 million TEU's in a post panamax environment while hosting a market space of over 15 million for imported TEU traffic.  Arguably, the easiest way to capitalize on Colombia's port infrastructure is to focus on P3 development of rail lilnes to link Buenaventura with Cartagena and Santa Marta to connect petroleum, dry bulk, ro-ro, grain, and intermodal traffic with major metropolitan areas.

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