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November 26, 2014
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La Plata port completes US$450M first stage expansion for 450,000 TEUs a year

Trucks and cranes at the new Port of La Plata’s Container Terminal.
By Guillermo Háskel
Herald Staff

Harbour aims to initially capture 20-25 percent of Argentina’s 1.6-1.7 million TEUS a year. Plans further expansion to handle 800,000 TEUs

The Port of La Plata, the capital city of Buenos Aires province, has completed the first stage of an expansion programme aimed at capturing between 20 and 25 percent of the about 1.6-1.7 million containers coming into and going out from Argentina every year, to compete with other Argentine, Brazilian and Uruguayan ports.

After an investment of US$450 million the harbour now has a capacity to handle 450,000 TEUs a year, Rodolfo Rocca, the general manager of the Port of La Plata public, non-state authority, told the Herald in an interview on Friday.

The port foresees a second expansion stage that will give it a final operational capacity of 800,000 TEUs, Rocca added, elaborating on information he gave at an Organization of American States-sponsored forum on dredging held in April.

The Port of La Plata was born after the building in 1882 of La Plata, after the City of Buenos Aires became the nation’s capital. At that time, in addition to the city, a port was also built on the southern bank of the estuary of the River Plate, 10 kilometres from La Plata and 37 kilometres from Buenos Aires by water.

The designer was a Dutch engineer who in his own rationalist model of that time included side-channels on both banks, and a coastal and a seafaring dykes, Rocca said.

“This project is still in operation today but obviously the side-channels have now turned useless. We are now restructuring that model.”

The port was transferred to the province at the beginning of the 1990s under the tenure of neo-conservative Peronist President Carlos Menem and in 1999 its authority was constituted.

Since then, the port authority decided to consolidate a minimum maintenance dredging to maintain the operational capability of the then 28-feet depth and also carried out navigation aid works as a channel transversal to the currents and the incoming and outgoing vessels’ manoeuvres cause sedimentation in the channel.

Rocca said that the port authority sought to solve that via maintenance contracts with a series of companies under the Buenos Aires Province’s Public Works Law 6021.

To further contribute to streamline navigation, the port installed signals along the whole access channel and rebuilt the breakwater with an investment of about US$15 million between 2003 and 2005 with the authority’s own resources.

All this has allowed investors to have scope to make an investment that places the port in a competitive condition regarding other ports such as those of Santos, Paranaguá and Río Grande, in Brazil, and Montevideo, in Uruguay, as well as others, such as the national one of the City of Buenos Aires, a provincial one such as Dock Sud, and also with private ones, namely Zárate, Rocca said.

He added that the Port of La Plata has the strategic location of being the first harbour of the trunk waterway. It is the closest to the ocean and its authority decided to adapt it to the conditions of the trunk channel, that is, the (Paraná-Paraguay rivers) waterway whose concession the national government granted to the Hidrovía SA company.

“We have already the same depth of the trunk channel, 34 feet. It would be useless to dredge more than that because that depth is marking a limit.”

The nation is also considering to rectify the waterway and, instead of going out through Recalada, exit via Punta Indio, something that, Rocca said, obviously favours the port as this would allow less navigation time in the area of the channel until arriving in deep ocean waters.

He said that the vessels coming to or going out from the Port of La Plata pay the lowest fees and have the shortest navigation time regarding the trunk channel.

‘QUALITY LEAP’

Going back to the origin of the new port, Rocca said that in 2005/2007 the authority saw an operational potential in the area and decided to make a qualitative leap so that the port passed from a design vessel of 215 metres by 30 metres in 2008 to vessels of 310 to 320 metres by 40 to 45 metres.

In 2008 a private group built a multi-purpose port terminal with the intervention of the port authority and the respective provincial state agencies, Rocca said, adding that the project was approved by a decree of Buenos Aires province Governor Daniel Scioli and by a provincial law.

“The facilities, with their structure and equipment, have been completed.

“We are nearing inauguration. It is a 600-metre long dock plus two mooring dolphins which allow berthing two design vessels at the same time along a container area of, in this first stage, of 15 hectares, plus another area for truck manoeuvering, administrative offices and that, as part of the concession granted to the Tecplata company, included the mandatory dredging to 34 feet at the zero local level, four portico cranes and nine transtainer cranes.

“We foresee an operational capacity of 450,000 TEUS a year. In this first stage this is tantamount to 20-25 percent of Argentina’s total container traffic of 1.6-1.7 million a year. The investment so far has been of US$450 million. We are also planning a second stage, mainly, a 250-metre dock expansion and the completion of another sector for stowage, with which the terminal would have a final capacity of 800,000 TEUs a year,” Rocca said.

ADAPTING TO NEW DESIGN VESSELS

He added that the port authority decided to project a new access channel which implied the intervention in a particular area, the roadstead or “common zone” of La Plata, with a 10.40 metre isobate (an imaginary line which connects all points having the same depth below a water surface) and that is shared by different merchant vessels mooring as they wait to enter the waterway, or carry out lightening operations.

“It was only natural that we would think of an extension of the access channel to the Port of La Plata, maintaining the philosophy of keeping a channel perpendicular to the coastline,” Rocca said.

“Finally, we completed our project that has been approved by the nation’s Under-Secretariat of Port and Waterways, the Coast Guard and the Hydrographic Service, and which implies extending the navigation channel three kilometres and the installation of about a dozen signals (four pairs of external ones and some pairs of internal ones), plus a whole intelligent system of real-time data transmission.”

The new channel and manouevre areas were first simulated with both national and international agencies which confirmed the port authorities’ calculations for the different transversal profiles and manoeuvering areas, Rocca said.

The works also included widening the channel and taking the diameter of the turning zone to 450 metres from 300 metres.

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