Short sea shipping could very likely become the next best thing among the coast of Latin America. The physical geography of Chile with its extensive coastline offerts the potential to use the seas as a ‘highway’ for domestic cargo. However, freight structure, demand and modal split, and the supply of shipping services over the last decade “have not evolved in the manner that might be expected in Latin America’s physical and economic geography setting”.
According to TRB paper 17-00885 A Chilean Maritime Highway: Is It a Possible Domestic Transport Option? by Mary R. Brooks and Gordon Wilmsmeier, coastal shipping is underdeveloped in Chile, so a maritime superhighway would make perfect sense, considering the country’s exceptional geography.
Social, economic and regulatory context
Chile’s social development in the past decade has led to an increased GDP, which has put a strain on existing infrastructure capacity and regional accessibility. Major export and import commodities include mineral products, chemicals and allied industries, wood and wood products, vegetable products, metals, foodstuffs and others and maritime transport continues to be the leading mode in international trade.
Economic development has come as a result of land infrastructure investment, which has turned the country’s transport system more fossil fuel dependant. Most of the country’s imported goods enter through the central region’s main ports and are transported by land to their various destinations.
Complex regulatory agreements involving cabotage have protected national maritime transportation from international competition. “Considering the elongated coastline of Chile and its many ports, it would make sense to facilitate coastal shipping for long-distance goods movement, which would reduce road congestion and reduce CO2 emissions”, reads the paper.
The paper presents two theoretical markets: a Northern corridor, a Southern corridor, or a combination of the two. However, the first measure for any of these internal maritime highways to become a reality is to strengthen the major port’s capability to tranship cargo between deep-sea and coastal vessels. The Northern corridor would extend from the port of Iquique to Valparaíso/San Antonio, including the ports of Iquique, Antofagasta, Puerto Angamos, Valparaíso and San Antonio. As for the Southern corridor, it would cover the coastline from Valparaíso/San Antonio to Punta Arenas, including the southern ports of San Vicente, Coronel and Puerto Montt.
The election of modal transport by shipppers will be mainly influenced by the advantage in time/money/volume the maritime option has to offer in comparison to the truck alternative. But, as the paper states, “it is difficult to identify how much cargo volume might be shifted from road to sea through regulatory change or economic development incentives; the lack of data on national road cargo flows limits this research.
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