The South American Continent is an important centre of global maritime trade offering competitive container shipping rates.
Though none of the South American ports features among the top 10 ports of the world, they are crucial for the infrastructural and industrial development of the 12 South American countries and the region as a whole.
The maritime routes to and from South America comprise around 15% of the world’s total trade and commercial services. With the construction of the Panama Canal that links the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific, the volume of maritime trade in the region has shot up by 50%. Mostly, agricultural goods like fruits, vegetables, grains and manufactured items are exported from the region’s ports to Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
South America has around 453 ports and the busiest ones are located in Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Argentina and Chile. Advancements in shipping technologies and increasing globalisation have increased the relevance of commercial ports that contribute significantly to a nation’s economic growth. In this article, let us have a look at the 6 major ports of South America.
Table of Contents
1. Port of Itaqui, Brazil
Itaqui Port is located on San Luis Island in the Bay of Sao Marcos, comprising a 1616 m long dock with a water depth of 9 m. It has a total of 8 operational berths and another is set to open by the end of this year. Itaqui Complex is the largest and the busiest port of Brazil handling about 146 million tonnes of cargo every year and is an important transhipment centre of the South American region.
Major export goods comprise manganese ores, alcohol, aluminium ingots and refined edible oils. It receives shipments of bulk fertilisers, caustic soda, wheat, coal, rice, petroleum products and derivatives, limestone, coke, LPG, aluminium fluoride, anthracite and miscellaneous goods.
The port’s storage facilities include a 7500 m2 warehouse for bulk cargo, a 3000 m2 storage yard for packed goods and four dockyards spanning 42,000 m2. Itaqui Port has four silos for storing 12,000 tonnes of grain, and three horizontal tanks for keeping 8000 tonnes of rice. The liquid bulk terminal has 66 tanks for storing 320,000m3 of fuel and petroleum and 2 LPG tanks with a total capacity of 8,700m3.
It has the latest port equipment such as three reach stackers for handling containers, two gantry cranes, three-ship loaders and twenty stackers.
Itaqui has two private terminals namely the Ponta de Madeira located in the north and the Alumar terminal, situated in the southern port area. The former was specially built to handle iron ore extracted from the Carajas region and transported by railways to Itaqui port for export.
The port authorities are building a new general cargo terminal for handling pulp and paper that would become operational in 2024. The expansion project also involves the construction of additional storage space, rail sliding and a parking area covering 53,550m2.
2. Port of Tubarao, Brazil
Tubarao port is located at Tubarao Point on the northern side of Baia do Espirito Santo, just 12 kilometres from the town of Victoria. It is the second busiest port in Brazil and one of the largest facilities in South America. Known for the export of Brazilian iron ore extracted from the mines of Minas Gerais, it is also the world’s biggest producer of iron ore and pellets. The iron ore berths can accommodate vessels with a maximum LOA of 350 m, a beam of 64 m and a draught of 15 m.
Additionally, it also moves steel goods, grains, soybeans, fertilisers and liquid bulk. More than 600 cargo ships and around 70,000,000 tonnes of cargo are handled at this port every year.
It exports around 80 million tonnes of iron ore annually and is equipped with five tipper cars with a capacity of 7000 tonnes per hour and 6 terminal facilities with an annual cargo handling capacity of over 120 million tonnes. It also has 4 shipyards offering ship repair and maintenance services for vessels weighing up to 50,000 DWT.
Tubarao has a huge container terminal spanning around 11 hectares incorporating five berthing facilities, a container freight station, 150 reefer connections, 6 warehouses and a 3456 sq m of stacking yard. The Liquid bulk terminal handles fuel oil, diesel, and petroleum products on its two piers capable of accommodating large oil carriers.
Prominent shipping companies such as Alianca, Grimaldi Napoli, MSC, Hamburg-Sud etc operate at this port, also famous as the world’s fastest iron ore loading facility with an average loading capacity of 12,000 tonnes per hour.
3. Port of Callao, Peru
The premier commercial port of Peru, Callau is situated on the central coast in the city of Lima and is a part of the Lima-Callau metropolitan region housing many industries and manufacturing plants such as famous local breweries, fish meal factories, and shipbuilding yards. The Port of Callau also functions as a naval base and is close to the Jorge Chavez International airport. It is one of the busiest South American ports and handles more than 43 million tonnes of cargo every year. Its 180 m wide and 16 m deep access channel can accommodate the biggest cargo ships carrying wheat, lumber and heavy machinery. It usually exports refined metals, minerals, fish oil and steel.
Callau port spans 47.4 hectares and comprises 8 wharves and 18 berthing facilities that serve container carriers, bulk and breakbulk carriers, RORO ships, oil tankers, general cargo vessels and passenger ships. It incorporates a 26-hectare storage area out of which 24 hectares are dedicated to containers and a 5 acre covered warehouse space.
Three silos for keeping 26 metric tonnes of grains are located near the north container terminal, operated by APM Terminals. It can handle more than 1.5 million TEU annually. The South terminal or the Muelle Sur is operated by the DP World Callao. Both the facilities deal with metals, fertilisers, grains, chemicals and coal.
The container handling equipment at the port is provided by ENAPU and other private companies. It has fully-functional equipment consisting of 14 reach stackers, 26 terminal trucks, six mobilizers, 28 tractors, 10 elevators, three mobile cranes and four gantries.
Apart from handling Peru’s 20% of ocean-borne trade, Callau is also a famous cruise destination. The cruise terminal is situated just 14 km west of Lima City and hosts major cruise liners like the Royal Caribbean and the Princess Cruises, offering attractive holiday packages. More than a million tourists visit the terminal facility annually.
4. Port of San Lorenzo-San Martin, Argentina
The San Lorenzo and San Martin deepwater port is shared by the neighbouring cities of the same name, located in the province of Santa Fe.
It is the busiest port in Argentina and one of the largest ports in the South American continent handling 32 million tonnes of cargo every year and around 50% of Argentina’s maritime traffic.
Lying on the right banks of the Parana river near the mouth of the Plate River, the port constitutes the northern area of the new Rosario town. It requires regular dredging due to the constant deposition of silt and sediment near the navigation channel.
It can accommodate Panamax size ships with a maximum LOA of 270 m and a draught of 11 m and serves the hinterland while functioning as an important distribution centre for the region’s agricultural products mainly soybeans, corn, sorghum, millet and wheat. Other commodities handled at the port include refined vegetable oil, petroleum products, liquefied petroleum gas, and chemicals.
It is equipped with the latest port operation system providing automatic loading and unloading operations at some of its specialised terminals. It also has a 10-hectare storage area and more than 12 warehouses for keeping containers and general cargo.
5. Port of Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena port is situated on the northern coastline of Cartagena Bay near the Caribbean coast in South America. Serving the capital Bogota, the port is home to several industries and processing plants such as sugar and tobacco processing, cosmetics, leather products, fertilisers and textiles.
Major export commodities include coffee, coal, platinum, nickel, resins, tobacco and chemical products while imports comprise machinery, foodstuff, cotton, household appliances and auto parts. Cartagena port handles 33 million tonnes of cargo and approximately 2.3 million TEU every year.
One of its terminals called the Sociedad Portuaria Regional de Cartagena was labelled as the Best Caribbean port and the most reliable port in 2013 by the Caribbean Shipping Association.
In 1984, UNESCO declared the Port of Cartagena and some of the city’s monuments as a World Heritage Site. Though an important trade facility, Cartagena is also a famous tourist destination as it houses the biggest surviving fortifications in South America. The port’s cruise ship terminal is equipped with two wharves and a picturesque waterfront that serves 500,000 tourists annually.
Cartagena port covers around 172 hectares comprising 8 berths with a total berthing line of over 500 m and depths of 12 m. The main container terminal of the port is located in the Ceballos Mamonal Industrial Zone and handles containers, bulk solid, and general cargoes. The Manga Maritime Terminal has nine berths that can accommodate ships with a maximum draft of 13 m, carrying up to 6000 TEUs. It is equipped with 4 ship-to-shore gantry cranes, 8 rubber-tyred cranes, 14 reach stackers, nine container loaders, three top loaders, 10 port trucks etc.
The Vopak Colombia terminal deals with petroleum products, chemicals, vegetable oils, biofuels and oleo-chemicals. It has 26 storage tanks with a total storage capacity of 27,000m3 of liquid cargo.
6. Port of San Antonio, Chile
The largest Port of Chile, San Antonio also ranks as the 13th busiest port in South America. Situated on the central Chilean coast, near the capital Santiago, it is also a famous seafood trading centre. The well-sheltered port handles all kinds of cargoes ranging from general cargo, containers, breakbulk, liquid cargo and RORO. Approximately 950 ships, 12,100,000 tonnes of cargo and 770,000 TEU are handled annually.
Puerto San Antonio covers 495 hectares and is well linked with the capital city, southern Chile and Argentina via roadways and railways. In 2019, Port San Antonio recorded the 8th largest throughput in Latin America and handled around 1.71 million TEU.
The port’s South Molo terminal handles containerised cargo on its 740 m of the continuous wharf with an alongside depth of 11.2 m. It also has 32-hectare paved storage for keeping containers and bulk cargo and 12,000 m2 of warehouse space with 800 reefer plugs.
The North Terminal is dedicated to solid bulk. It incorporates a 320 m dock with an average depth of 11 m, capable of accommodating ships weighing up to 60,000 DWT.
The Policarpo terminal has inbuilt ramps for accommodating RoRo. Ships measuring 190 m with a maximum weight of 50,000 tonnes can berth at this facility.
Terminal Multioperado has four multipurpose wharves for dealing with solid and liquid bulk including loose cargo. Around 14 shipping companies utilise this facility which offers over 200 reefer connections for containerised goods, direct railway links to the hinterland and about 7 hectares of storage area.
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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.
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Shilavadra Bhattacharjee is a shipbroker with a background in commercial operations after having sailed onboard as a Third Officer. His interests primarily lie in the energy sector, books and travelling.
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