Chilean president Michelle Bachelet’s announcement about the development of a Large Scale Port in San Antonio just weeks before the end of her administration has put an end to years of postponing the decision, one that went against the alternative of building the facilities in the port of Valparaiso.
Since the proposal of both alternatives until the final presidential decision, there was one of the deepest crisis in global maritime transport, starring Hanjin Shipping’s bankrupcy in 2016 due to low demand and higher industry consolidation.
Diminshed economic growth on a global scale and, more so in Latinamerica, was enough to set a climate of doubt surrounding the real need for such a project, or if it would just sufice with enhancing the existing infrastructure in the Central Zone. Also, many expected this decision to be left to the following administration of Sebastian Piñera and not as part of Michelle Bachalet’s last government efforts before leaving her post.
Characteristics and projections
Estimated works for the project include a 3,700 meter seawall with two berthing docks of 3,600 meters with two terminals of 90 hectares each, to be called South 1 and South 2. Construction will be developed in two stages for each dock, according to the expected containder demand.
Current maximum container capacity at the San Antonio facilities (San Antonio Terminal Internacional and Puerto Central) is 2.49 million TEU. According to a demand study, said capacity would be met by 2024 with an option to increase by 15% by optimizing operations. The same study suggests Phase 1 of the Large Scale Port to begin operations before the current terminals reach maximum occupation.
The project entails dividing Phase 1 into two stages of development (1- A and 1-B) with a capacity of 1.5 million TEU/year starting in 2020. Phase 2 would break ground once 3 million TEU capacity is reached and could also consider two periods of construction. It is estimated that the LSP would see a total of 6 million TEU/year only seven years after complete operation in 2035. A containerized cargo demand study for San Antonio presented three possible scenarios by 2045: 8 million TEU –in the worst case; 10 million TEU as the basic projection; and 14 million TEU in the optimistic case.
Clashing with reality
Doubts about the real need for a LSP for the central area in Chile come from an overly optimistic view of the future, estimating large figures that seldom live up to the expectations. Several local and international studies placed capacity at +2.5 million TEU by 2016, when in reality demand only reached 2,171,688 TEUs.
Also, an important piece of data to consider is the percentage of empty vs loaded containers. In 2016, 4,145,034 TEUs were moved in Chile, but only 2,659,381 had cargo. The same year in San Antonio total containers with cargo were 870,000 and in Valparaiso it was less than 635,000. By 2030, when the new facilties should be in full operation, specialists believe that there will be a considerable gap between real and maximum capacity. Experts suggest to recalculate the figures based on updated information from mid 2010’s to the date for more accurate projections. Based on optimistic views of a 2.8% growth rate by 2030, capacity would still be under 4 million TEU.
Without the LSP, capacity in the central Chilean ports would still be over 4 million TEU by 2030. So, is it really needed?
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