The growing trade between the Atlantic region of South American and Asia has fueled speculation and several commentaries about a future terminal for mega container ships (18,000 TEUs and over) in South America. APM Terminals of The Hague recently announced their intention to develop such a terminal to the northeast and outside the metropolitan area of the Brazilian City of Fortaleza, at the Port of Pecem. While available space for such a terminal is non-existent within metropolitan Fortaleza, space is available along the coast near and to southeast of the dock area that extends eastward into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Port of Pecem is located on a semi-peninsula with an offshore L-shaped island. A breakwater extends out to sea and across to the island with a northward dock built from it at 90-degrees to the breakwater. The layout provides a large area of sheltered water to the north of the breakwater where a fleet of interlining ships may drop anchor. As a result of future transportation logistics and the possible development of a companion key South Atlantic transshipment port, the Port of Pecem might need to simultaneously berth two mega container ships.
Key South Atlantic Super Terminals
Mega container ships that sail between Asian transshipment ports and the Port of Pecem would sail by Cape Town, South Africa. The development of transshipment terminals at both Cape Town and Port of Pecem would greatly enhance the economics of sailing mega container ships on to the South Atlantic.
Hopefully, the South African Minister of Transport would encourage development of a domestic transshipment port for mega container ships at Cape Town or at a nearby South African Port. The combination of super ports at Brazil and South Africa enhances the economics of sailing mega container ships north to European super ports.
Several Western and Mediterranean European ports can already berth the mega container ships. Mega container ships could feasibly sail from a Western European super port carrying a combined load of containers destined for South America as well as Southern and South-Eastern Africa. A South African transshipment terminal capable or berthing mega container size of ships would be essential to facilitate such operations.
At a future Port of Pecem transshipment terminal, southbound mega container super ships would exchange South American bound containers for containers destined for the combination of Asia, Western Australia, Southern and Eastern Africa.
Companion Key Hub
The companion key transshipment terminal at South Africa would likely need to simultaneously berth two mega container ships while providing an extensive area of sheltered water where a fleet of smaller coastal ships could drop anchor.
The Port of Cape Town would need an offshore extended breakwater located a few miles to the west of the existing breakwater, to increase the area of sheltered water at Table Bay. A breakwater would be possible at St Helena Bay to provide a region of sheltered water. South Africa needs to decide on the transshipment terminal location for mega container ships.
The absence of a South African transshipment hub for mega container ships would greatly impede the economics of sailing the huge ships into the South Atlantic. It would translate into higher transportation costs per container-nautical mile carrying containers aboard smaller ships sailing from Asia, Europe or South America to Southern Africa as well as areas of Western and Eastern Africa. The combination of a Brazilian and South African transshipment hubs capable of berthing mega container ships offers the prospect of reducing per container-nautical mile transportation costs to/from major areas of South America as well as Southern Africa.
Alliances and Scheduling
Alliances between and amongst container ship companies could greatly enhance the productivity of operating mega-size container ships into the South Atlantic region. In terms of scheduling, peak productivity could be achieved when a westbound and an eastbound mega container ship are at the South African transshipment port at the same time.
At Port of Pecem, northbound and southbound mega-ships would also be in the port at the same time. Such scheduling would greatly enhance the productivity of the coastal ships that would serve smaller Latin American, and also African, ports and interline with the mega-ships at the transshipment terminals.
Northern Atlantic Interlining
While the Port of Pecem could operate as a turn-around point for mega container ships that sail the Asia – South America service, it could also function as a stop-over for such ships that could also sail to other ports to northern hemisphere ports. Several Western Europe and Mediterranean transshipment ports can berth and service mega container ships, including versions too large to sail the Suez Canal.
Developments are underway near New Orleans, U.S., to develop the Louisiana International Gulf Transshipment Terminal (LIGTT) with some 100-feet water depth at the port that is intended to berth mega container ships.
The island of Bermuda is the ideal location for a transshipment terminal for mega container ships that would interline with smaller ships that would sail between Bermuda and multiple American east coast ports. Except that the port area near Hamilton can at present only offer half the required water depth to berth a mega container ship. There will be need for research at Port of Hamilton, Bermuda to determine the possibility of deep dredging the harbor area and developing a new dock to berth mega container ships plus multiple smaller coastal ships that would sail to/from east coast American ports.
North American Alternative Ports
If it is not possible or not feasible to deep dredge at and near Port of Hamilton, Bermuda, Nova Scotia in Canada could provide the default east coast North American transshipment terminal for mega container ships. At present, the south terminal at Port of Halifax may actually be able to berth a mega container ship, except the terminal is restricted to about 75-acres area. Port of Halifax would need to develop an animated visual simulation with a link on their webpage, to illustrate how their port could quickly and efficiently transfer containers between mega-ships and either railways or smaller ships.
Until another northeastern transshipment port for mega container ships is developed at either Eastern Nova Scotia or at St Pierre and Miquelon, Louisiana International Gulf Transshipment Terminal (LIGTT) would likely serve as North America’s main terminal for mega container ships that sail via the Ports of Pecem and Cape Town. This terminal is close to the southern terminal of the American Mississippi inland waterway system and Gulf coastal waterway that connects to several northern Gulf ports. Several major railway lines and truck routes converge on nearby New Orleans from where containers may be moved by barge to LIGTT.
West Coast American Interlining
Ships up to the neo-Panamax size may carry containers between a future Port of Pecem transshipment terminal and any of several west coast American ports, as well as northern west coast Latin American ports. The containers would be destined for or originate from the combination of South American regions as well as Southern, Eastern and a few Western African regions.
The combination of carrying combined loads for different international destinations would enhance the feasibility of sailing greater numbers of ships to Port of Pecem. There may be enough trade to warrant sailing neo-Panamax ship to/from Port of Pecem.
APM Terminals appears to have a sound business case to develop a transshipment terminal for mega container ships at Port of Pecem.
Developing a companion transshipment terminal for mega container ships at or near Port of Cape Town would greatly enhance the economics of sailing such ships via Cape Town, between Asia and South America.
The combination of mega container transshipment ports at both Port of Pecem and at or near Port of Cape Town greatly enhances the business case to extend the Atlantic segment of these ships’ voyages to European super ports and on occasion, to the American Gulf super port.
The combination of mega container ship ports near Fortaleza and Cape Town also enhances the business case to sail interlining neo-Panamax container ships between Port of Pecem and the combination of West Coast American and Northwestern Latin American ports.
The technical expertise from the Asian ship yards suggests that a mega container ship of 26,000-TEU may be possible, except that such a ship would be too large to sail via the Suez Canal. However, such a ship could sail via Cape Town on voyages between South America and Asia. It may even be able to berth at some European super ports as well as at the American Gulf port.
While the Greater Cape Town area would be the preferred location for a mega container ship capable transshipment terminal, the Port of Ngqura was built as a transshipment port for neo-Panamax ships that can carry up to 14,000 TEUs. It is unknown whether Ngqura could be expanded to simultaneously serve a pair of mega container ships and an interlining fleet of smaller coastal ships.
It is hoped that the South African Minister of Transportation would be willing to encourage the development of a South African transshipment terminal for mega container ships, preferably at or near Cape Town, to berth the combination of a pair of mega container ships and a fleet of smaller interlining coastal container vessels.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.