Alex Hughes examines the Honduran plan that will support growth at its key hub
Expansion of Honduras’ Cortés container terminal gives it enough capacity to handles volumes for the next five years, according to its operator.
ICTSI manages Operadora Portuaria Centroamericana (OPC), which has the concession to operate the box terminal at the Port of Cortés. After its expansion, the terminal now has a capacity of 1.2m teu, allowing it to double the current traffic volume handled.
“This makes the terminal capacity enough for the next five years for sure,” says OPC chief executive Mariano Turnes. “OPC's commitment, according to the concession, is to invest more and expand the terminal up to the end of 2025 to reach a 1.9m teu annual capacity.”
Puerto Cortés mainly services feeders and smaller vessels, which vary in size from 130 metres in length (698 teu) up to 225 metres (2,872 teu). However, because OPC is equipped with super post-panamax quayside gantry cranes that are able to work across 23 rows, not to mention alongside draft of 14 metres (upgradable to 15.5 metres), some shipping lines are reviewing the possibility of bringing bigger vessels (6,000-10,000 teu) to the Central America region.
Currently, volumes are dominated by domestic moves (89%) and some regional cargo (10%), while transhipment represents only 1% of total volume.
Mr Turnes notes that 12 shipping lines call at OPC, while a further six effectively operate there through vessel sharing agreements. And because the terminal is predominantly handling domestic traffic he sees volume projections as “relatively stable”.
Productivity is pretty good, too, he claims, with OPC having the best on the Atlantic coast of Central America: “We doubled the average vessel productivity in the second year of the concession. In 2013, for example, when the terminal was in public operation, the average was 19 moves per vessel-hour. In 2015, with OPC firmly in charge, we reached a gross average of 40 moves per hour. We are also expecting further improvements with the new pier in place and two new super post-panamax cranes operating,” says Mr Turnes.
With the new cranes, OPC is expected to reach an average of 30 moves per vessel-hour. However, because the terminal services many smaller vessels, that sometimes puts a constraint on the big cranes to perform to their full potential.
Nevertheless, Honduras does have advantages over other countries in Central America in terms of box traffic generation and distribution. For example, it is one of the world's main coffee exporters.
“The Government also has a strategy in place to be the logistic centre of Central America by improving the domestic road network and customs borders facilities to improve processes and therefore shorten cargo transit/distribution times to all regions,” says Mr Turnes.
The current government is additionally the main sponsor and supporter of the Regional Free Trade Zone. At present, Honduras and Guatemala have already put in place a Free Trade agreement, which helps facilitate border crossings. El Salvador signed up to join the common bonded zone in January 2019.
“Honduras is also located in a strategic geographical position with big investments planned in infrastructure and continued private/public process improvements,” adds Mr Turnes.
As for rail, the infrastructure does exist, but is very old, damaged and out of commission. However, there are some indications from the government that it is willing to find private sector investors for a public-private partnership project to renovate and upgrade the rail network. Understandably, at present, all Central American cargo generated by Puerto Cortés has to be moved by road.
“The main restrictions are the state of the surface of main roads connecting Puerto Cortés with El Salvador and the processes in place for cargo to cross borders. But the government is currently working on improvements and some of them have already been carried out,” he says.
In terms of political stability in Honduras, Mr Turnes points out that, with the support of UN and other entities, the government has started a dialogue with many representatives of society, political parties, the private sector and others.
“In the region, Honduras is leading positive changes to infrastructure, processes and logistics between private and public parties. OPC/ICTSI trusts and continues to invest in Honduras and remains positive on the region's growth potential,” concludes Mr Turnes.