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Competition for transshipment business heats up in Caribbean

Competition for transshipment business heats up in Caribbean

Posted by Shanelle Weir on November 28, 2014

Two more Caribbean ports have tossed their hats into the ring as potential transshipment hubs that will be able to handle post-Panamax ships, which will begin transiting the Panama Canal in early 2016.

Officials from Port Lafito, a private port under development in Haiti, and Puerto Rico's Port of the Americas outlined their plans during the 38th Annual Conference on the Caribbean and Central America in Miami last week.

The Haitian port will be the deepest in the country with a draft of 41 feet, which isn't deep enough to handle a post-Panamax ship. But a second phase with a shipping channel that would potentially be 52-56 feet deep is under consideration, said Pierre E. Liautaud, a Port Lafito board member.

The Puerto Rican port in Ponce is big-ship-ready with a draft of nearly 50 feet. Port officials would like to see the Port of the Americas become a major global shipping hub in coming years and are currently looking for an international port operator to run it.

But the seas are already crowded with ports - both in the United States and the Caribbean - that want deep water to capitalize on the expansion of the Panama Canal, which will allow the passage of ships that can carry three times as many containers as the Panamax ships that now use the canal.

Billions of dollars of investment in new ports and port improvements have been made throughout the region or are being contemplated in this race for deep water.

PortMiami is currently dredging its shipping channel to a depth of 50-52 feet and will be the first U.S. East Coast port south of Norfolk, Virginia, with water deep enough to handle a fully loaded post-Panamax ship.

But not everyone is convinced this part of the world needs so many deep-water ports.

While any country with a coast needs a port that runs with relative efficiency, "we have too many ports in the Americas and there are too many ports that are developing container capabilities beyond what will ever be needed," Richard Wainio, former chief executive of the Tampa Port Authority, said Monday. "There will be winners and losers."

The Lafito container port is part of a larger development project that includes an industrial free zone, business park, a residential and commercial area and an ocean club with a boutique hotel, beach club and marina.

In Haiti, ports are "the hearts and lungs," of the economy, said Liautaud. Port Lafito, which is scheduled to open in early 2015, will be managed by SSA Marine. Located north of the capital of Port-au-Prince, it's a 25-minute drive from the international airport.

Haiti has a long history of light manufacturing and garment assembly, and the Lafito Global complex hopes to spur economic development and help revive the assembly industry.

Wainio said there's little debate that Haiti needs a better, more efficient port. Port Lafito, he said, could help Haiti reach its goals of diversifying the economy, bringing in more maquiladora plants, and having a better gateway for exports. But he doubts the Haitian port needs to go to a depth of 52 to 56 feet in the second phase of development.

He sees Port Lafito's future as a medium-sized facility serving the Haitian market, rather than a transshipment port where cargo is unloaded from bigger ships and shipped to regional ports on smaller vessels.



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