Veracruz port to receive capacity boost

Cutter suction dredger Marco Polo at work in Veracruz
Cutter suction dredger Marco Polo at work in Veracruz

The Port Administration of Veracruz is setting the bar high for the project now unfolding at this leading Mexican port for cars, containers, and other cargoes. Construction of the USD1.55 billion project, which kicked-off in 2014, is expanding and placing new container and bulk facilities and multipurpose and liquid terminals on reclaimed land.

A key motivation behind this is the Gulf of Mexico market. The Journal of Commerce reported Veracruz’s engineering manager, Francisco Carrera, in 2015 as saying that the expanded port envisioned itself as a competitor to Port of Houston, among others.

Boosting capacity

The port already handles almost one-third of national marine cargo. Construction-wise, the aim is to enable it to boost its annual capacity from the present 23 million tonnes to 95 million tonnes, and within that amount, to grow its container business from today’s 900,000 teu to 5 million teu over the next 12 years. Veracruz is part of a USD5 billion programme by the national government that will improve 25 ports on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

One such project is Tuxpan Port Terminal, about 295 km from the port of Veracruz. Terminal operator SSA Mexico is an important stakeholder at Tuxpan, providing USD370 million there to create a container, automotive, and general cargo facility with 5,000 m2 of warehousing, four ship-to-shore cranes, and 560 m of wharf with alongside depths of 15 m. That project comes within an SSA Mexico overall investment of USD670 million in projects at six ports across the country.

The government sees Veracruz as a significant project, as pointed out in a 2016 article by Guillermo Ruiz de Teresa, the transport secretariat’s ports and marine co-ordinator. Ruiz de Teresa wrote that the Veracruz initiative would help to “strengthen the port and its infrastructure” for decades to come, helping enable the nation to “consolidate itself as an international-class logistics hub”. Figures vary, but the government and port authority’s stake in the project cost is roughly 20%, or about USD310–350 million, with the private sector providing the rest – about USD1.25 billion.

Construction of the 4.2 km L-shaped breakwater by contractor Copasa included placing tens of thousands of dolosse blocks and basalt boulders. Work started in 2015 and finished in May 2018, with the structure reportedly being the longest of its kind in Latin America.

Once fully built out, the new site it protects will feature wharfs totalling 2.7 km in length and 35 berths with alongside depths of 18 m. Sections of the new land are ready to use, with container terminal operator Hutchison Ports having started in July 2018. Other stakeholders, such as Grupo Logra, Grupo Gramosa, Pinfra, and IEnova, are all poised to start building terminals.

Environmental check up

As dredging and reclamation work neared completion in June 2018, Jan De Nul’s project manager, Tom Degrieck, described the key factors en route. The contractor deployed ts cutter suction dredger Marco Polo for most of the dredging, according to Degrieck, along with a 12,000 m3 trailing suction hopper dredger (TSHD) for some work, with “the material pumped on to the reclamation site through a sinker line of 800 m and up to 2 km of landlines”.

Degrieck said 12.5 million m3 of material would be used to reclaim “approximately 190 ha”. There have been other steps pertaining to the environment. First, a pre-dredge soil investigation revealed that pollutants were not present, said Degrieck, adding that “the material to be dredged consists mostly of pure sand, hence there is no need for any form of soil remediation”.

In addition, he explained, “The presence of coral reefs in the vicinity of the project was taken into account when establishing the environmental management plan.”

In terms of those reefs, another firm, Argo Environmental Consulting, has carried out work at Veracruz involving sediment monitoring systems. A USD5.3 million operation relocated large amounts of coral in the construction area, and almost 50,000 marine creatures, to a protected site 25 km from the port. The 85% coral reef survival rate reportedly exceeded the state requirement.

Co-ordinating activities at the enormous and complex construction site has had its challenges. Degrieck said, “Reclaiming operations are ongoing. At the same time, the breakwater is being built, sheet piles are placed, and compaction operations are under way.” Work was completed within a month, well ahead of the contractual deadline.

That was clearly a welcome development, with plans ready for the new port land: terminals for liquid, containers, grain, and minerals, as well as areas for general use.

Port officials are now looking even further ahead. Also envisioned is a construction phase that would reclaim a 500 ha parcel and house three additional terminals. The port also intends to eventually add turning basins, a rail bypass, and to double its land area.

As for the current project, work has unfolded, at least as Degrieck sees it, with co-operation, flexibility, and efficiency, a point that he describes as the key takeaway from the dredging and reclamation initiative. As noted, there have been challenges, but the end result, Degrieck added, is that work has met, “in the most economical way, the milestones set up by our client”.

Finally, the impact of the extensive reclamation, dredging and construction work at Veracruz extends far beyond the port. As Ruiz de Teresa wrote, Veracruz is not only “a pillar for Mexico,” but also “one of our main doors to the world” that will help enable the nation to “consolidate itself as an international-class logistics hub”.