As shipping companies merge in seeking economies of scale to brave and survive an over-capacity crisis that started several years ago, vessels are growing and ports throughout Latin America are striving to adapt to berth them. But some hold greater advantages than others — Pacific harbours are finding it easier to adjust than those facing the Atlantic, both due to natural and trade conditions.
“Ships are becoming larger and one of the problems for several Latin America ports is that this is having an impact on their infrastructure,” said Daniel. M. G. Figueiredo, Latin America sales manager for Trelleborg Marine Systems, part of Sweden’s Trelleborg Group, which deals in engineered polymer solutions to seal, dampen (against collision) and protect critical applications in demanding environments.
“We are talking about ships of 18,000, 20,000 and 22,000 TEUs and there is already technology for 25,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) ships, some of them almost 400 metres long.”
Figueiredo, from Brazil, spoke to the Herald on the sidelines of the IX Port Engineering Congress, organized by the Argentine Association of Port Engineers (AADIP). He elaborated on a presentation he made at the forum.
“Shipping companies are merging in the search for economies of scale. But this doesn’t imply just merging. It also involves the use of their terminals and larger vessels to consolidate cargo loads.
“We hear that shipping companies see two different models: the Pacific area ports are investing in new equipment and revamping their docks, mostly to harbour ships between 12,000 and 16,000 TEUs. The Atlantic area is aiming not so much at this kind of vessel as Postpanamaxes of 12,500 TEUs, for which it is not prepared,” Figueiredo said.
Additionally, he said, vessels are not only growing in size, but their profiles are changing too. Prows — the forward-most part of a ship’s bow — are becoming wider.
“Some of the vessels look almost like aircraft-carriers. Latin America’s port infrastructure must adapt not only to new equipment but also to the new manoeuvring conditions which are not easy for such large vessels. The infrastructure must include appropriate equipment to absorb the impact of the new ships.
“Docking manuals prescribe a maximum clearance of 300 millimetres. This may be usual for small vessels but for ships between 16,000 and 20,000 TEUs this is really an exceptional occurrence,” Figueiredo said.
He added that the challenges include the facts that many docks are already there, that the infrastructure already exists and that it was built taking into consideration a given charge, and that the new, larger ships many times require equipment requiring more effort from the docks.
All this involves in-depth studies of infrastructure changes, reinforcements or, many times, different concepts, such as defence devices.
“We have repotentiated docks in South America without introducing infrastructure changes but rather resorting to defence devices for a greater dissuasion of dock tensions,” he said. “What Latin American ports need to do in the face of the new ship size trends is highly expensive. In some cases, the required investments are tremendous because it not only involves infrastructure but also dredging. There are many ports used to a 13- or 14-metre depth. For example, Santos (Brazil), which is around 12-15 metres deep and needs to go to 17 metres — (this is) something which requires dredging.”
“In the face of deeper dredging needs, some ports have naturally favourable conditions and are starting to have advantages over others. We have often seen Pacific ports have a better ability to adjust to the new requirements for docks and terminals than those on the Atlantic coast, mostly due to dredging conditions. In general, Atlantic ports have to invest more than those on the Pacific.
“In general terms of competitiveness and for what we have seen and what we have been talking about with shipping companies, apparently, the Pacific area will get larger vessels than the Atlantic area, partly due to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and natural advantages such as deeper docks,” Figueiredo said.
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Buenos Aires Herald Tribune
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