Buenos Aires must secure capacity

Container Port of Buenos Aires Container Port of Buenos Aires. By Dan DeLuca (originally posted to Flickr as container-port) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

An immediate concern for the Port of Buenos Aires is to secure container handling capacity, considering the 2019 expiration of concessions of the three container terminals.

This is the declaration of the International Transport Forum (ITF) in its discussion paper on 'The Container Port of Buenos Aires in the Mega-Ship Era' which finds that bigger ships, industry consolidation and increased trade will pose numerous challenges for the port.

Port authority AGP is planning a land reclamation project to transform some of the current finger piers into linear quays able to handle the largest container vessels. "This new port layout would make it possible to accommodate 14 000 TEU ships," said ITF. AGP also plan to "move from three to one container terminal, which would increase terminal size," it said.

Inadequete analysis?

It is difficult to assess how current infrastructure investments might improve the freight transport network, said ITF, because while major government infrastructure investments that should improve the freight transport system connecting the ports to their hinterlands have been announced, it has not seen analysis by the government identifying the largest bottlenecks, the main current and potential freight flows and where it would make most sense to improve networks.

It warned the Paseo del Bajo project that will connect the Buenos Aires-La Plata and Illia highways, whilst creating new green spaces in the El Bajo area of Buenos Aires to relieve congestion may have mixed results.

As part of the works associated with the project, the "government is putting some key port land up for sale: the railway sidings at Empalme Norte (Retiro) and practically all of the customs warehouses adjacent to the container handling facilities in Puerto Nuevo," explained ITF. "This might complicate railway access and detract from value added logistics services in the port: it takes rear space away from the port necessary to keep the port operational."

Capability concerns

In looking at how well policies are adapted to future requirements, ITF found that AGP's proposed depth limit of 11m would impose limits on the extent to which megaships could be loaded when calling Buenos Aires.

Dredging the River Plate to the considered maximum depth of 12.8m would make it possible to have calls from ships with capacity up to 20 000 TEUs but only as long as these are not loaded beyond 25% capacity.

The proposal for restructuring of the container terminals would increase yard space, but only by 14 hectares to 91 hectares, which may not provide the appropriate buffer capacity needed for handling larger ships.

If container volumes grow by a factor of three to four as predicted by ITF's freight model, there will be a moment in the next three decades when demand will exceed projected container terminal capacity.

In the short term there certainly is not a lack of container port capacity – although most of this capacity might not be suitable for the ship sizes that will soon come to the East Coast of South America, found the paper. Currently available capacity (almost 3m teu handling capacity in the Buenos Aires region) is around double the volume handled. If all of the possible extensions and announced plans would be realised, this capacity would even rise to almost 4m teu.

The proposal for Puerto Nuevo is framed as a solution for the long term, but it is most likely only a solution for the short – and possibly medium – term, the paper concluded.

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