The Puerto Rican Ponce Port, which recently completed a $250 million upgrade and has plans for an $80 million industrial center, is ready to compete to become the port of choice for cargo in the Caribbean.
“Before the work, the port had very old docks," Carlos Mejia, director of the Ponce Port Authority recently told Latin Business Daily by telephone. "It had been operating nearly 100 years and needed an upgrade. The depth was on average about 30 feet and now it has been expanded to a capacity of up to 50 feet, which not even the San Juan port has.”
Ponce, in the southern part of Puerto Rico, is aiming to attract the much bigger "Post-Panamax" ships, which are expected to reach the Caribbean with the coming expansion of the Panama Canal. The bigger ships will require deeper docks.
In addition to a deeper port, Ponce now has a new ship terminal and added cranes on the docks.
After the Ponce authority finished the infrastructure work, it awarded Singapore-based Portek a three-year contract to run the port, which is also known as the Port of the Americas. Portek was chosen because it is an international operator with the capacity to “insert Ponce in the logistics and cargo” network of the big world maritime lines.
“We agreed to give them the management of the port for three years, and they will deploy personnel for the operation, marketing and equipment engineering," Mejia said. "Once certain goals in terms of organization, efficient operation and increases in cargo volumes are reached, we can negotiate a 15-year accord so they can reassume the operation and project additional investment."
The expectation is that new shipping lines and new cargo, including that to be distributed across the Caribbean, south of the U.S. and north of South America, can be handled in this area of Puerto Rico. Portek already has a worldwide network and can help get clients, Mejia said.
Attracting this traffic means competition for other ports in the area including Kingston, Jamaica and Mariel, Cuba.
“In parallel, we are doing other efforts,” he added as he described plans for an industrial area where there is an expectation to see $80 million in additional investment. Unlike the public investment to expand the port, the industrial area would likely be private investment, but the authority already has the land. The authority is still evaluating.
“The industrial area would be one where manufacturing processes started in other countries could be finished here," he said. "This would generate movement of raw material imports as well as finished good exports."
The Ponce Port Authority can offer shipping lines economy and security in addition to political stability.
On the other hand, the planned industrial area can offer the possibility of a “Made in USA” tag attached to any product manufactured in the area.