Buenaventura bubble

23 Apr 2008
Port Strategy: impressive growth figures belie a troubled past

Impressive growth figures belie a troubled past

Colombian port lynchpin has had more than it's fair share of man-made and natural disruptions, as Rob Ward discovers

Despite a deeply troubled past, the Colombian port of Buenaventura can boast some of the most impressive growth figures in Latin America and an ambitious $275m 10-year investment plan means it could even become a key hub port along the West Coast of South America. According to Sociedad Portuaria Regional de Buenaventura (SPRB) officials, Buenaventura handled 723,796 teu in 2007, which was 16.2% up on 2006.

And, there will be more of the same this year.

Luis Miguel Grisales, a commercial manager for SPRB, tells Port Strategy: "And this year with a fair wind we will increase our throughput by another 13.3% up to 820,107 teu."

The installation of two new Noell ship-to-shore (STS) gantry cranes by the end of March, 2008, giving Buenaventura a total of four, will bolster productivity and help the port's four stevedoring companies deal with the sharp throughput increases and general lack of capacity in the port.

In 2006, Buenaventura handled 622,233 teu, up 15.1% from the 531,795 teu it handled in 2005, according to Containerisation International (CI) 2008 yearbook, and that was more than double the figure for 2004. Those 2006 figures also saw the Colombian west coast port leap from 132nd place up to 126th in the CI list of world container ports. Since then CI stats suggest that Buenaventura is now in 97th position, up from 158th in 2004; a lot of extra containers in a very short space of time.

This indeed is a major step forward from the dark days in the early 2000s when the main bridge into the port was frequently blown up by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas who were trying to hurt the government in Bogota by damaging infrastructure around the strife-torn country.

The catalogue of incidents affecting the port reads like a series of sketches from a country at war:

November, 2005:  A launch exploded in the port of Buenaventura killing a naval officer and a Coastguard rating and injuring dozens of other. No-one claimed responsibility but revenge attacks from drug barons was believed to be responsible.

May, 2003: FARC rebel bomb attack wipes out all electricity supplies to the port city. Part of a spate of attacks on public utilities that left three dead.

March, 2003: 12 trucks are set on fire blocking the road from Buenaventura to Cali, one of the main industrial cities in Colombia.

November, 2002: Responding to shipper concerns, the Colombian authorities open up up a key security post that can accommodate up to 50 soldiers, to help deter further bridge and road bombs from FARC insurgents.

November, 2000: FARC guerrillas blow up one of only two bridges leading to the port of Buenaventura, causing truck delays of up to 24 hours.

 

On top of these man-made problems for Buenaventura, there have been numerous landslides blocking the main road from the port city up into the mountains and Bogotoa, Cali and other key cities.

Since then matters have improved considerably, according to SPRB's Mr Grisales.

"The routes are safe to Bogota now because the national government and the army has programmes to strengthen security against attacks by insurgents and to promote tourism, in addition to that this is a major route because Buenaventura mobilises a very important part of total traffic of Colombian cargo."

And Luis Carlos Suarez, the operations manager at Eduardo L Gerlein SA shipping agents, adds that the arrival of two new Liebherr mobile harbour cranes in mid-2007 greatly improved productivity in the second half of 2007.

He tells Port Strategy: "We faced serious congestion problems back in 2006 but operations improved a lot in 2007 and we expect them to improve even more now with the arrival of two more SSGCs over the next month or so."

There have also been various rumours that an international terminal operator will become involved in Buenaventura and develop the area opposite the main port - called the Aguadulce Peninsular - but Mr Suarez says that "nothing concrete" has materialised as yet.

Firstly, TCB of Barcelona and then ICTSI of the Philippines have been rumoured to be "seriously interested" in this development but, according to Mr Grisales, there have been no "concrete developments" as yet.

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