Dutch firm agrees to put $1 billion into Moín docks

The existing Moín dock is considered to be highly inefficient. Photo: Junta de Administración Portuaria y Desarrollo Económica de la Vertiente Atlántica

The Costa Rican government Tuesday awarded a Dutch company a concession totaling $1 billion to construct a state-of-the-art container terminal at Moín on the Caribbean coast.

The new terminal will compete with the government-owned docks that are considered highly inefficient.

Casa Presidencial said the project would bring 2,000 jobs to the poverty-ridden Caribbean coast.

The contract went to APM Terminals, which says it offers an integrated global network of ports, terminals and inland services. This network has 53 ports in 32 countries, 121 inland facilities in 48 countries, with a total of 22,000 employees in 62 countries, the company said in a parallel release.

“This project is a key and a priority within the national development plan in matters of infrastructure,” said Laura Chinchilla, the president. She said other projects involve improving the highways that lead to the port, including the troubled Ruta 32 between San José and Guápiles, as well as an expanded petroleum refinery on the Caribbean.

Francisco Jiménez, the transport minister, noted that the Moín port was the principal exit for goods going to the United States and the European Union. The problem at the port is one of congestions due to an insufficient number of docks and limited storage capacity for containers, he said. The current docks can only handle a single ship at a time. In addition there are tourism cruise ships that dock at the nearby Port Limón.

Some 75 percent of Costa Rica’s exports pass through the Caribbean ports and in order to reach a government goal of $17 billion in exports in 2014 addition infrastructure will be needed, said the minister.

The terminal shall assist in the transformation of the economic and social development of Costa Rica and of the province of Limón in particular, said the company. The firm projected approximately 1,000 direct jobs during the construction phase and 450 jobs during the first phase of operation, coupled with new investments and indirect jobs in the area. That was less than the government’s estimate.

The company gave this description:

In the first phase and depending upon technical studies, the access channel and the area where ships turn will be dredged to 16 meters (52.5 feet) deep. A new 1.5-kilometer (nearly one mile) breakwater will be constructed. The container yard with an area of 40 hectares (148 acres) will be created together with 600 meters (nearly 2,000 feet) of pier with two separate places for ships to dock. Additional works include the administration building and a 12‐lane gate.

Equipment in the first phase will include six ship‐to‐shore gantry cranes and other specialized equipment. This first phase will be completed in 2016 and will cost an estimated $543 million.

The terminal will undergo phased expansion in
accordance with provisions of the concession agreement. Upon the completion of the final phase, the terminal will have an area of 80 hectares, with 1,500 m of pier, five berths, a 2.2-kilometer (1.4-mile) breakwater and an access channel 18 meters (59 feet) deep.

The company added that the dredging will permit the entry of larger ships with greater container capacity, creating economies of scale and that construction of the breakwater will counteract weather conditions that prevent normal functioning at the port of Moín and enable the terminal to operate 365 days a year.

Casa Presidencial said that the waiting time for ships to be loaded or unloaded would be reduced from sometimes five days to a day.

The government said that the premises envisioned by the company would be one and a half times the size of Parque La Sabana.

The company will have three years to build the first stage, which includes two berths. Within 10 years or when traffic equals 1.5 million containers a year, the company is obligated to construct a third berth. The third stage begins when container traffic reaches 2.5 million a year.

The government reduced the proposed fee for handling a container from $246 to $223, it said. The cost would be better than the estimated $311 per container at the existing government docks. They are operated by the Junta de Administración Portuaria y. Desarrollo Económica de la Vertiente Atlántica.

The actual cost at the government docks is higher because there are additional fees for guards and rental of space. The World Bank estimated that the cost is higher due to delays. In 2008 there were 38,000 hours of wait time valued at $765 million, according to the bank, the government said.

The total cost of exporting a container this year is $1,190 in Costa Rica, $729 in Panamá and $456 in Singapore, the government said. In addition the new facility will be able to receive ships carrying up to 9,000 containers compared to the current maximum of 1,200, said the government.

It was in April 2009 when the government published an offer to create a concession at the port. The project is opposed by the dock workers union who have rejected a major payoff from the state. There are frequent job actions there.

The unions were hardly mentioned Tuesday, but there is the probability of legal action and demonstrations and strikes from the current workers.

Also not mentioned Tuesday was the possibility of constructing a dry canal whereby containers unloaded at either Moín on the Caribbean or Caldera on the Pacific could be transported by rail to the other coast. Much of the rail infrastructure already is in place, although a bypass would have to be constructed around the metro area where trains compete for road space with vehicles.

There also is a break in the line due to weather and lack of maintenance east of Cartago.

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