Colombia will improve cargo and logistics policies for port departures

Buenaventura, Cartagena, Santa Marta and Barranquilla, the key ports of Colombian foreign trade

By: Camilo Pérez García

The process of privatization of the Colombian port system, initiated in the 1990s, added to a geostrategic location and constant advances in infrastructure and logistics, have consolidated the national ports as effi cient and competitive terminals. A tour of the entities responsible for managing the main ports of the country.

Since time immemorial, maritime ports have been synonymous with progress. Apart from injecting dynamism to the economies of the coastal cities, they have gone from being distribution and storage centers to become indispensable instruments of the foreign trade of the countries.

Today they are considered large logistic nodes that offer value logistics services to the entire chain of international logistics operators. Among its advantages in logistics are its high load capacity, competitiveness in terms of freight, flexibility in cargo handling and continuity in operations.

Only last year, Colombian maritime ports – including port operators and port companies from the public and private sectors – moved a total of 153 million tons of cargo, registering an increase of 1.3% compared to 2011, according to DANE figures.

These strong figures are part of the success in terms of results that the sector has been recording since the privatization of ports in Colombia began in the early 1990s.

As is known, the State through Law 01 of 1991 established the administration of maritime ports by both public and private entities. As a result of this regulation, the ports were delivered under concession, the Colpuertos liquidation was authorized and institutions such as the Regional Port Societies (SPR), the General Superintendence of Ports and companies of private port operators were created.

This measure had an impact on the improvement of the operational performance of the country’s maritime terminals, positioning them as efficient and competitive terminals compared to their peers in the region.

Next, a look at the performance of the main regional port companies of the country, also considered as the main ports of Colombia.

Buenaventura, the direct door with Asian trade

The industrial port complex of Buenaventura is the most important port of the Pacific and of Colombia due to the volume of cargo handled.

It has a strategically privileged location. It is located in the center of the world, equidistant from the main sea routes that cross the planet. It is also one of the ports of the American continent closest to the Asian market, an ideal aspect to take advantage of recently signed free trade agreements as well as those that are in the process of being formalized.

It is constituted by a maritime terminal that is managed by the Regional Port Company of Buenaventura SA (SPRBUN), and a wharf that is administered by the Grupo Portuario SA; between the two they receive about 52% of the cargo that enters the country.

Within its modernization plan, SPRBUN -whose concession contract granted in 1994 was extended for 20 more years until 2034- contemplates investments for 450 million dollars, of which 175 million will be allocated to equipment, 215 million in infrastructure and 60 millions of dollars in logistics.

“As of December 31, 2012, we had invested 252 million dollars of those US $ 450 million, that is, without having finished the first concession, we had already invested more than 50% of the investments agreed with the State,” says Jorge Andrés Gallegos , commercial manager of the Company.

Recently the Society inaugurated works and equipment that will increase the capacity of the port, in view of the expansion of the Panama Canal. These investments will result in shorter operation times for ships in port, due to a more agile loading and unloading service, which in turn will allow significant savings by reducing the freight rates for exporters and importers.

According to the commercial manager of SPRBUN, last year, 9,506,000 tons of cargo were mobilized.Regarding imports, there were 7,233,000 tons of solid bulk (cereals, fertilizers and minerals); while exports totaled 1,734,000 tons of cargo.

According to the manager, the products that are most received through the port are cereals, containerized cargo, electrical appliances and last year, 120 thousand vehicles entered the country. What is most exported is sugar (in containers, as general and bulk cargo), coffee and non-traditional loads.

On the other hand, the main disadvantage of the maritime terminal is the road infrastructure. For Jorge Gallegos “unfortunately this does not correspond to the increase in cargo that has been recorded by the port, specifically the access road to the port of Buenaventura (Buga – Buenaventura) is in a deplorable state”.

Currently, the port has 600 direct employees and about 8,000 indirect employees.

Santa Marta: his fortalEza, El carbón

The port of Santa Marta stands out because it is the only one of deep waters of Colombia (depth without needing to dredge), with a natural draft of up to 60 feet (18.3 meters). This translates into shorter docking times, allowing greater efficiency and reducing operating costs; therefore, it can receive large vessels without any restriction.

Among the advantages offered by the capital of Magdalena highlights its geographical location. It is the city of the Caribbean closest to the center of the country in front of cities such as Barranquilla and Cartagena, which is why its land freight rates are cheaper and more competitive than other terminals in the Colombian Caribbean. It is also the only port on the Atlantic coast with rail, so it is able to offer the service of loading and unloading directly at the docks.

According to figures from the Sociedad Portuaria de Santa Marta SA, 6,518,000 tons of cargo were mobilized last year, of which 3,852,000 tons corresponded to exports (including coal) and 2,271,000 tons to imports. The product that was received the most during 2012 was corn, with a total of 1,500,000 tons.Similarly, 40,735 vehicles entered the country, registering a growth of 32% compared to the same period of the previous year.

This multipurpose port, which has 562 direct and 8,000 indirect employees, is divided into three large subterminals specialized in coal, grain and general cargo, and containers.
“In the container terminal we made investments in the order of 60 million dollars and increased the capacity from 100 thousand to 320 thousand containers per year”, highlights Mauricio Suárez Ramírez, manager of this Port Society.

One of the main strengths of its operation is the export of coal. In effect, the port has an annual capacity to store seven million tons of ore and to load 24,000 tons per day.

“In the coal subterminal we have executed very important investment plans for environmental works and since 2003 we have a direct loading system, which allows us to deposit the mineral with encapsulated bands inside the vessels without the use of barges”, says Mauricio Suárez.

It should be noted that the Company has received several international awards for the high environmental and technical standards used for the receipt, storage and loading of coal for export.

Currently, the port is waiting for the Government to authorize the construction of a railway load variant of 17.5 km, which would allow the terminal to be connected to the center of the country, without affecting the tourist corridor of Santa Marta, where passes the railway line and that is currently underutilized.

According to the Company, the reactivation of rail transport will allow decongestion of the roads, reduction of accidents and emissions, since more than 350 trucks with coal travel daily through the La Loma – Santa Marta highway.

On the other hand, according to the official, the port is executing a modernization plan with investments amounting to 127 million dollars.

Cartagena, the first container port in the country

After four and a half centuries of history and being considered the port of America, the port area of ​​Cartagena today is characterized for being the largest in the country to own 54 docks, among which 18 advance foreign trade activities.

Administered by the Sociedad Portuaria Regional de Cartagena SA (SPRC) since 1993, it is considered an authentic integrated logistics center that unites the Caribbean with the rest of the world, through connections with more than 288 ports in 80 countries and services with the main ones. shipping companies of the planet.

Among the advantages offered by its infrastructure are its eight berths with a depth of up to 44 feet (13.41 meters), civil works such as dredging, construction of courtyards and the acquisition of state-of-the-art port technology.

The technological transformation in the port includes information systems, cranes for stacking containers oriented by satellite and a computerized system for document management interconnected with Customs, which speeds up the entry and dispatch of cargo, increasing the safety of operations.

This port specializing in container handling recently reached the record number of 2,018,389 containers moved at the end of 2012; unprecedented achievement in Colombia and consolidating it as the fourth most important port in Latin America in cargo movement, after Balboa and Colón, in Panama; and Santos, in Brazil.

According to the information provided by the Port Society, within its modernization plan “investments of close to 900 million dollars are contemplated until 2017, of which US $ 410 million have been executed”.
Currently it is ready to be part of the 30 most important ports in the world in 2017 and it is expected that before the end of that year it will reach the goal of the five million containers mobilized; for this, the Contecar construction must be completed and the Manga terminal reconfigured.

Among its disadvantages, like other ports in the country, the irregular topography and poor condition of the Colombian roads stand out. As is known, exports of higher value leave the center of the country, distant for many kilometers from the ports, generating a great risk for the merchandise and, therefore, a higher cost of freight for the companies.

Barranquilla bets on investment

The Regional Port Company of Barranquilla SA (SPRB) enjoys a strategic location to be located 22 kilometers from the mouth of the Magdalena River, on the Caribbean Sea, in Bocas de Ceniza and for its proximity to the large industrial centers of the city.

This multipurpose terminal handles the four types of cargo: bulk (solid and liquid), general and containers.It also provides warehousing and use of facilities services to customs agents, importers, exporters and maritime agents in general.

Its maritime wharf is 1,058 linear meters and has a draft of 30 feet (9 meters). The construction of an additional 200 meter long dock is currently underway, which will support operations at the terminal.

In 2012, it mobilized 4,264,957 tons of cargo, the highest in history, reflecting the recent investments and optimization projects advanced by the maritime terminal.

Likewise, the SPRB executes a modernization plan that contemplates investments of around 179 million dollars, of which US $ 70 million have already been invested.

According to René F. Puche, president of the SPRB, these investments aim to improve port quality and service standards, increase competitiveness, productivity and respond to the challenges that lie ahead with the new free trade agreements signed by Colombia and the increase in commercial activity.

Likewise, the Company now has the support of the Southern Cross Group, majority shareholders of SPRB, who will support the modernization plan with investments of close to 100 million dollars, destined for training human resources, infrastructure and technology.

“These strategic alliances with important participants in the logistics chain will allow the port of Barranquilla to become increasingly competitive, which will be reflected in its growth,” adds the President of the SPRB.

The Society currently has 980 employees, after increasing its human resources by 15% in the last two years.This indicates the good time for the port and its economic and social contribution in terms of employment for the city.

What is a port operator?

“It is a company that provides services in the ports, directly related to the port entity, such as loading and unloading, storage, pilotage, towing, loading and unloading, land handling or loading, dredging, classification, reconnaissance and useria” . Statute of Maritime Ports, Law 01 of 1991. Revista Logística spoke with the expert in port logistics, Elías Urán, executive director of the Association of Logistics Operators of Buenaventura, who offers us an overview of port activity in the region.

What are the strengths of the Port of Buenaventura?
Geostrategic location for foreign trade with Asia and the Pacific, consolidating as a fundamental ally to face and take advantage of signed free trade agreements and those that are in the process of formalization. It is also a port whose current dynamics offers great opportunities for linking local and international investment groups.

What is the role of the Association of Logistics Operators of Buenaventura in the port?
The Association of Operators and Logistic Developers of Buenaventura (ASOLOGB) promotes the orderly development of the new logistics platforms in the region. It also provides support to investors who are interested in developments of urbanized land for the installation of new logistics and industrial platforms, to offer world-class services. Currently, Spanish, Filipino, Chilean and Swiss groups have already made important investments in Buenaventura; Similarly, Arab investors, Canadians, among others, are evaluating new investment opportunities.

What are the challenges of the sector?
The sector has the challenge of working on the integration of public-private synergies in order to accelerate the improvement of the infrastructure of public services. Accompany the formalization processes of urban developments, offering favorable conditions for the assembly of new logistic and industrial processes, to promote the arrival of new investors. Consistent with the above, articulate the communication channel between the private sector authorities, districts, environmental, curators, public service entities and other entities involved in the processes that are part of the urban development of the Buenaventura District.


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