Call for Buenos Aires debate

06 Jan 2017

Maritime consultant Antonio Zuidwijk writes a letter to the Editor on the need for an open discussion on the future direction of the Port of Buenos Aires

Dear Editor,

Last week I read a column from the Trustee of the Argentina’s General Administration of Ports (AGP), Gonzalo Mórtola, in which he referred to the Strategic Plan of the Port of Buenos Aires in 2019.

I sincerely hope that before a decision is taken, a public debate will be held on the issue. Without doubt, the Port of Buenos Aires will be necessary for Argentina’s foreign trade for several years to come and plays an important role as a cruise port.

All Argentineans have the right to a competitive port and there are many points that must be analysed and raised in open debate with specialists that understand the issues beyond pure port operations. 

A strategic plan for any port should always be analysed within the transport plan of a country. And in “progressive” countries, transport policies are now always intermodal transport policies, where transport modes are used in combination to give the lowest final cost to move a cargo from source to destination.

But these costs are not only those charged by the transport operators, such as truckers, railway companies or water transportation companies. They should include the costs of building and maintaining the necessary infrastructure, congestion and accidents, and the effect on the environment of every mode.

The Port of Buenos Aires is situated within the River Plate, more than 220 kilometres from natural deep water of 12 meters, the minimum depth required for a port of any importance. The channels are long and narrow and dredging is very costly. Then we must take into account that the Port of Buenos Aires sits behind an urban area where 12 million people live. Those inhabitants require that all possible measures be taken to mitigate the inevitable negative effects that a port has on city traffic, ie studies of cargo flows must be undertaken. 

The Port of Buenos Aires already has serious access problems for both trucks and railroads, which will cost a great deal to solve. Modernising the port from “finger piers” to long linear quays to cater for pure container operations will also be at far greater expense, when compared with creating berths in alternative locations. 

Those considering Buenos Aires’ future must also consider the evolution of world trade. There are those that fear a contraction of world trade due to the increase in global protectionism. This current shipping crisis, which began in 2009 and caused the collapse of the seventh largest shipowner in the world, Hanjin, has caused chaos in logistics chains in Europe and the US. This year, it is estimated that shipowners will collectively lose $5bn, and a number of global shipyards have already gone into receivership.

Maritime carriers are today obliged to lower their costs and have finalised vessel sharing agreements to spread risks. We will soon have just three major alliances for the main Asia-Europe and Asia-US trade routes. Those same carriers call at ports in South America. This also will affect terminal operators that can no longer count on high return on investment. It seems that port operators too have to join forces in order to survive. 

A final point raised in Mr Mortola’s article was that Fundación Valencia Port, the Port of Rotterdam, the Port of Barcelona and ALG consultancy all contributed to the Strategic Plan and the tender conditions for the future bidding process of two terminals at the port. The question here is: what actually was their contribution? 

These are just some of the points that must be analysed in the making of a strategic plan for the Port of Buenos Aires. Specialists, not just port specialists, must be consulted when setting the strategic plan through to 2019.

Antonio Zuidwijk, maritime consultant 

Mr Zuidwijk has covered this topic in further detail on his website at www.antonioz.com.ar.

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