COLOMBIA: The eternal fight of the Barranquilla terminals with the Magdalena river
The high sedimentation that the Magdalena River in Colombia carries along its route every year translates into millions of losses for the port area and the city of Barranquilla itself.
According to studies, it is estimated that the river dumps about 200 million tons of sediment to Bocas de Ceniza, where it dies in the Caribbean Sea, which is generated by erosion on its banks and the loads it receives from its tributaries.
This situation is aggravated during seasons like the current one, of drought, when the river level is low due to the lack of rain, which forces the sediment to go to the bottom and expand the sand banks or islets.
In fact, maintaining the depth levels of the Magdalena River has been a constant difficulty for no less than three decades. In this area, about 10 meters are required, so as not to threaten port operations in Barranquilla, where 11 docks operate, in addition to the Port of Palermo, on the eastern margin, in the department of Magdalena.
The situation becomes more dramatic if one takes into account that years ago the National Government abandoned the maintenance of the mouthwaters of Ceniza.
The eastern cutwater, in Magdalena, practically disappeared; thus, the sea is already passing over it.
Importance of the port
The port area of the capital of the Atlantic is of great importance for the country’s foreign trade. It is through this place that 7 percent of the national cargo leaves the international markets. For example, 25 percent of palm oil exports and 65 percent of coking coal leave this port, which is used in the metallurgical sector.
In addition, 70 percent of the steel needed by the national industry and 25 percent of the bulk enter through these ports.
Among other things, 50 percent of the cargo that moves through these terminals is its own; that is to say, he stays or leaves Barranquilla, hence the port area is of great importance for the economy of this capital.
“This is a problem of country, not of region or city. If the port is paralyzed, many sectors will be affected ”, adds Lucas Ariza, executive director of Asoportuaria. The official adds that this port moves about 11.5 million tons of cargo per year.
In his analysis, Ariza states that the merchandise that moves through this port area “could not be moved to neighboring ports overnight, because they would not have the capacity to operate it.”
So much money has been invested in recent years in trying to maintain the optimal draft in the 22 kilometers of the access channel to the city’s port area, ranging from Bocas de Ceniza to the Pumarejo bridge, which has already in the city there is talk of the ‘mud cartel’, in view of the millionaire contracts in dredging. Even in the last four years, more than USD $10 million have been invested to solve the difficulties in the draft.
The last investment that was made was in March of this year for a value of USD $5.5 million between Findeter and the Shanghai Dredging – Ingecon Consortium, with which the dredging of 1,864,494 cubic meters of sediment is sought. The contract was signed until December 31, 2020.
Asoportuaria points out that the contract also contemplates, in its terms of reference, complying with a design channel that allows the General Maritime Directorate of Colombia (Dimar) to establish an operating draft of 10.20 meters.
In the latest report from Cormagdalena, it is highlighted that these dredging operations have allowed the removal, as of May 18, of 286,738 cubic meters of sediment in the port area of Barranquilla.
However, these advances have not been sufficient. In the port area it was possible to have the Hang Jun 5001 dredge permanently,
According to port´s executives, the Chinese dredger hired has not worked fully in the critical areas of the access channel, arguing that the weather conditions do not allow it.
Today the draft, depth reached in the water by the submerged part of a vessel, is 9.6 meters deep, so the port area is obliged to maintain some restrictions.
Even since the contract was signed in March, 12 vessels have been diverted to neighboring ports to lighten cargo due to the low draft that is maintained in these waters. Four others have sailed abroad with less load than expected.
Due to these difficulties, the different affiliated terminals in Asoportuaria have suffered damages of 130,460 tons, as a result of the multiple restrictions in the operating draft.
Asoportuaria assures that this has represented the industrial and commercial sector of Barranquilla, for importers, exporters and for users of the port, cost overruns valued at two million dollars. While for the ports the affectation represents losses close to 1.5 million dollars.
The hope for the Barranquilla port area is the execution of the so-called APP for the Magdalena River, a USD 5 Billion project that promises to improve navigability by 660 kilometers from Barrancabermeja (Santander) to Bocas de Ceniza, a project that is in structuring phase.
The National Government announced that this year it will be ready; however, in the city they have already heard that promise for 4 years. Citizens from Barranquilla have not stood still and have revived the old dream of a deep-water port. This week it was revealed that there are interested in this mega-work.
“To build it, a memorandum was signed in agreement with the company PowerChina. The port of the future will be maritime and fluvial, it will allow to receive the largest ships in the world ”, stressed the mayor of Barranquilla, Jaime Pumarejo.
By EL TIEMPO