Belize is the least populated country in the Central American region. Its economy is mainly dependent on agricultural production, and sugar is the largest export commodity. The second major crop is bananas, and this industry employs the most Belizeans.
Other important export goods include industrial minerals, oil and petroleum. All these commodities are exported to the US, UK, Mexico and also European Union, which are the Caribbean nation’s major trading partners.
The country has two important ports that handle its import-export trade. These are the Port of Belize and Port of Big Creek. Apart from these, there are seven other small port facilities in Belize that deal with minor cargo and internal trade.
The ports are operated and managed by the Belize Port Authority. It ensures that port security laws are upheld and also carries out annual inspections at the port facilities. The ports are crucial for the country’s economy and the supply chain hence the port authority takes stringent measures to keep the ports at par with international standards.
In this article let us look at ports in Belize.
Table of Contents
Port of Belize
Belize Port is situated on the west Caribbean coast in Belize city. It is the main seaport of Belize. The city of Belize is an important commercial centre which is why the port of Belize handles about 95 to 98% of the nation’s imports and exports.
The Belize port handles 45,000 TEU every year and undertakes mainly container and container freight station operations. It also deals with some amount of liquid and dry cargo.
It was in 2002 that the government decided to hand over this port to Port of Belize, Limited. With this, the company got the right to operate the port and offer port services for three decades. Presently, both the government and the port authority are planning to expand the Belize port and construct a new terminal to handle bulk goods.
This is because the port faces difficulty in conducting its operations due to congestion. The dock is quite narrow-mouthed and also the pier is not easily accessible as it is small with sharp turns. This has restricted the number of vessels visiting the port. The wharf is also not wide enough and is incapable of accommodating more than one ship at a time. This has decreased port productivity as only one crane can be used at a time which is time-consuming and also not cost-effective.
The navigation channel, the turning basin and the wharf do not have deep waters. This means that only small vessels can access this port while reducing the port’s capacity to handle heavy bulk cargo. The port equipment like the shore cranes need repair and this slows down operations leading to additional shifting of goods and the need for transferring containers.
The port has also seen some improvements. International shipping companies can carry trade at the port through local shipping agents who need to take permission from the ports authority.
The port authorities have revamped the port systems and now everything is computerized, making the operations easier. The port has an online portal on which the shipping agents can track their shipments and containers.
These are some new automated services that have opened recently. The accounts are also mechanized along with a completely automated system for identifying the location of the containers in the port and for the entry and exit of vehicles.
There is an administrative building in the port vicinity and a mechanic shop. The port has a conventional and a container berth, both 25 meters long, capable of accommodating ships with an 8-meter draft. There are also berthing tugs and a water barge at this port.
The port equipment includes two dockside cranes, which can lift 150 to 160 million tonnes. Two mobile cranes with a capacity of 55 to 60 million tonnes, a 49 million tonne capacity reach stacker, two transtainers and a 5 million tonne forklift.
The port has a container station, twelve reefer stations and also offers cold storage facility.
A Multipurpose Terminal
This terminal is under-utilised as its dock spanning 230 m2 is not operational. The dock is 68 m long and there is a 26 m berth for handling RoRo vessels. However, the RoRo platform was never used as it was incorrectly designed and built and also the water is not very deep near the entrance. Hence, RoRo vessels can’t berth here.
Bulk cargo handling
Heavy and bulk cargo is loaded and unloaded using cranes and the port authority undertakes and oversees this as there is no facility in Belize to handle bulk goods.
Main Storage Facility
The port spans 2,400 m2 and the main storage facilities at the port are the Puma fuel storage which supplies fuel to Belize. The capacity of the storage tanks is 50,000 gallons. There is also a warehouse measuring 1,955 m2 for storing dry goods and a separate area for loading and unloading spanning 2500m2 and 800 m2. It has two container yards each measuring 9,290 m2 and 5,850m2 respectively. The length of the wharf is 750 meters.
The port is well connected by roadways and goods are moved by cranes and loaded onto trucks for distribution. Various port services such as 24 hours navigation aid, pilotage, storage facilities etc are provided. The port security is ensured by the Belize coast guard and it also has firefighting equipment.
In 2019, the Belize port handled about 44,515 TEUs which is a decrease from the amount handled in 2018 which was 45,020 TEUs. In 2020, the Belize port signed an agreement with Octopi, a provider of the modern terminal operating systems. This endeavour would modernize the port operations and build efficient customer services.
Port of Big Creek
Situated in southern Belize, Port of Big Creek is owned and operated by Banana Enterprises Limited. It is the country’s second-largest port and the most important one for the banana industry. It is medium-sized and the port harbour is not safe and is prone to hurricanes. This port is usually visited by container ships.
It was built in 1990 for exporting bananas. Presently, it deals with agricultural products, crops and bulk cargo.
It exports bananas, citrus fruits, crude oil, shrimp and deals with imports of fertilisers and chemicals used in agriculture. The port also provides barge services, rental services, stevedoring, pilotage and also security services. The port is well equipped and also offers cold storage. It is the first port in the country which allows the ships to dock near the mainland.
The navigation channel requires dredging and so it was dredged 7 m deep and is 68 m broad to allow ships to pass through. However, only one vessel can pass at a time. Work is ongoing to dredge the remaining area and to further broaden the turning basin. Then instead of the present 150 m, the turning area will be able to take a ship of 250 meters. The channels would be expanded to a depth of 11 meters and broadened to 105 meters.
This port has all the facilities to handle refrigerated goods such as a backup power supply unit, as well as containers to store grain and dry bulk cargo. In 2016, the port saw 6,634 TEU’s container traffic and handled 48,400 million tonnes of bulk cargo.
A multipurpose terminal
The port has two conventional berths spanning 305 meters and 10 m deep, capable of accommodating vessels with a 6.5 m draft. A third is being built spanning 213 m. Also, there are facilities such as conveyor belts for transferring grain from the port onto the ships. They are unloaded using cranes.
The port offers numerous facilities which cover about 30 acres of the port area. It has a container yard spanning 10.7 acres with a 1200TEU’s storage capacity. It also has a bulk terminal stretching 12 acres.
It has a liquid bulk storage space that comprises 14 tanks with a storage capacity of 59,000 barrels for storing clean fuel and crude oil. It has two warehouses for storing boxed bananas measuring 1,603m2 and 762 m2 respectively. It also has two storage spaces for keeping fertilisers and petrochemicals.
It has three berths for handling containers stretching 213 m. The first two berths handle bagged cargo while the container berths deal with RoRo. It also has a berthing tug and water barge.
The port equipment includes a dockside crane with a lifting capacity of 200 million tonnes, three mobile cranes with capacities of 60, 100 and 200 million tonnes respectively. It also has a 33 million tonne reach stacker and two, 3 and 5 million tonne forklifts.
It has container facilities and a container freight station. It also has three reefer stations.
In August, Port operator, Operadora Portuaria Centroamericana (OPC) and Big Creek Port got into an agreement to interconnect the two Central American ports. It would considerably increase the port capacity as well. This endeavour would also transform port infrastructure, port services and port technology. This partnership would also allow the Port of Big Creek to have access to a free zone in OPC’s storage yards for storing its import and export cargo in transit.
Commercial Bight Port
The Commercial Bight port is in the town of Dangriga in the Stann Creek district. The wharf is 5.9 m deep and it is a deep water port. However, it is not operational now. It was an important deep water port in the 1900s and shipped bananas, mail, mahogany to New Orleans and the United States.
It was hit by a hurricane in 1941 and underwent reconstruction. It was used till 2013. The Belizian government had leased it to Port of Belize Limited in 2002. The lease was abrogated in 2013 and the port of Commercial Bight was closed then. The citrus and oil companies shifted from this port to the Port of Big Creek to export their goods.
Fort Street Tourism Village
It is situated on the northern shores of Halouver Creek and is a small port covering two acres of land. It has a cruise terminal and is a tourism port. It sees many tourists annually. The port has a beautiful sea view and a small village that offers many fun-filled activities. There are many souvenir shops, chocolate shops, jewellery stores and many fine restaurants and bars too. The port is safe and mainly earns through tourism.
Harvest Caye Port
It is also a famous cruise port and is located on the southern side of Belize called Harvest Caye. This port allows cruise ships to dock without the need for tenders.
This port is owned by Norwegian Cruise Line or NCL. The tourists are given high-quality services and can enjoy the Caribbean waters. There is a beautiful marina, a beach with canopies, a salt lagoon, and a lighthouse too. It was a 50 million USD project that was completed in 2016.
This port contributes to the Belizian economy by employing more than 500 locals plus all the goods and services required by the tourists are procured locally and not imported. It not only generates good revenue but promotes Belizian culture as well.
Puma Energy Bahamas SA
This port is used for handling imports of bulk fuel. It is in Belize, on the Caesar Ridge Road.
Punta Gorda Port
This port is in the district of Toledo, in the southern part of the country. It is a fishing hub and a seaport that is usually used by passengers to travel to nearby places like Puerto Barrios and Livingston. Small open boats are used for this purpose whereas small tourist ships also visit this port. Tourists can enjoy the ocean view and can live in lodgings in the deep forests like the Cotton tree lodge and Hickatee houses.
San Pedro Terminal
The port is operated by the Belize Border Management Agency which runs the Saca Chispas Water taxi terminal. This terminal is used by people for travelling to and from San Pedro, Belize, Mexico, Ambergris Caye and Quintana Roo. It has 6 small docks for accommodating small water boats, tour ships and tenders.
It is a tanker ship that is currently not usable and is utilized by the sugar industry. It has been converted into an offshore storage facility for molasses. It is situated in southern Belize.
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Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendations on any course of action to be followed by the reader.