| 2/2/2007 12:00:00 AM

El puerto de Urabá

La localización de un puerto en Urabá ofrecería buenas posibilidades para operar el negocio de trasbordo por su cercanía al Canal de Panamá. Entrevista con el experto en puertos, Paul. E. Kent.

El puerto de Urabá
Para evaluar la viabilidad de un puerto marítimo de gran envergadura en Urabá, Dinero consultó con Paul E. Kent, vicepresidente de Infraestructura, Planeación y Economía de la firma de consultoría Nathan Associates. Kent es consultor del Banco Mundial en temas portuarios.

Transcribimos las respuestas del experto, en inglés.

Do you think this Urabá port makes sense?
I am familiar with the lightering operation used for banana shipments from the port of Uraba. The fact that lightering is used to export 1.2 million tons of bananas suggests this is the more economic alternative to other options for handling bananas, such as dredging or extending the pier to deeper access, or a combination of the two. I am not familiar with the geotechnical or hydraulic conditions at the site to be able to make a judgment as to what solution is most feasible.

What should be the adequate (minimum) size for the port to be financially feasible?
The minimum tonnage requirement to justify port investment all depends on the cost to build the port. Revenues generated for cargo handling depend on the type of cargo (e.g. containers, breakbulk, bulk) handled. The port should be built based on its market outlook and the ability of generating revenues from these cargoes to cover the cost of port development (plus a reasonable profit assuming there is private investment). I doubt that the port could capture 100 percent of the Antioquia cargoes given there would be interport competition, as there is between Cartagena and Santa Marta (I am referring to domestic cargoes and not transshipment cargoes – given the recent announcement for MIT of Panama to assist Santa Marta in its development program, Santa Marta could eventually become more than a nuisance to Cartagena).

The investment for improving Uraba also needs to consider access. My understanding is that road accesses to the port are not good. If road accesses are improved, along with the port, then I think you could eventually see some cargo diversion to Uraba (non-Antioqueño cargo shifting from Cartagena), assuming Uraba can offer a reasonable (competitive) level of service (efficiency, productivity, and cost). From the shippers’ (importers and exporters) perspective, they will also be concerned with carrier service frequency (e.g. how many ships call the port vs. Cartagena).

Do you see a business opportunity for this port, considering the Panamá Canal expansion?
The port’s location does offer some interesting prospects for transshipment. It is closer to the Panama Canal. But its role as a transshipment hub depends on what transshipment role it plays under prevailing market conditions. Cartagena serves more as a regional hub than it does as a pure transshipment port (like Manzanillo, Hutchinson, and Evergreen terminals in Panama). For pure transshipment port status, Uraba has a disadvantage relative to the terminals at the Canal entrances. For regional hub status, a port having a large domestic volume is preferred by carriers for facilitating their transshipment requirements. In any event, the planned Canal expansion is expected to both increase transshipment activity as well as direct calls. This is an interesting dynamic that needs to be fully assessed relative to prospects to Uraba and even Cartagena.

I am sorry I can’t be more direct in my responses to your three questions. They cannot be answered with any certainty without the necessary analyses that should be done to make investment decisions. This would encompass a master plan feasibility study that assesses the market and presents strategies for capturing this market, presents a conceptual layout and estimated costs for construction, and provides financial and economic analyses to determine the port’s feasibility. As a general consideration, I believe it is Colombia’s policy to promote port competition, and having such a port to serve Antioqueño cargoes offers the prospects for reducing hinterland costs and thus enhancing competitiveness for Antioqueño exports. Hence, there may be justification for government support for such a study.

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