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Costa Rica 2019 | TRANSPORT | FOCUS: MOÍN CONTAINER TERMINAL

An ambitious land reclamation project led by a highly specialized Dutch consortium to build a 40-ha port off the coast of Limón should vastly increase the country's maritime competitiveness.

In what will be Costa Rica's largest infrastructure project in history, a Dutch consortium of Van Oord, one of the world's preeminent dredging and marine contractors, and BAM International, a leading global construction firm, are working at breakneck speed to finish Phase 2A of the Moín Container Terminal (MCT) for APM Terminals off the coast of the Caribbean port of Limón. Once completed by February 2019, as the consortium expects it to be, the USD1-billion container terminal will consist of a 40-ha offshore peninsula built entirely on reclaimed land 500m offshore of Moín Bay, connected to the mainland by a 650m key wall providing berth to ships through an access channel up to 18m deep.

Surrounded by a 2.2-km breakwater made entirely of rock and x-blocks manufactured onsite, Van Oord will dredge more than 6.5 million cubic meters of sand as it reclaims the 40-hectare peninsula; dredge three million cubic meters of clay from the access channel and turn basin with a state-of-the-art cutter section dredger; and use various soil improvement techniques to guarantee the terminal has stable foundations. With workers and technicians from 24 nationalities collaborating to complete the three-phased project in merely 36 months, the terminal is contracted to clock 3 million man-hours, not including loss time or injuries.

Setting out to build the most efficient terminal in Latin America, MCT's cranes will have the capacity to conduct 26 moves per hour in their first year of operations and more than 35 moves an hour by its sixth, according to engineers from Van Oord. To run uninterruptedly, the port will drastically reduce waiting times and increase the terminal's cargo capacity, boosting commerce, minimizing shipping costs, and lowering end-consumer costs. Equipped with 39 electric container cranes and six Super-Post Panamax gantry cranes, it will be able to serve container ships of up to 8,500TEUs— four times the size of Limón's current capacity and eventually accommodate New Panamax ships of up to 13,000TEUs.

Receiving permission from the National Council of Concessions (CNC) to begin commercial operations in its deep-sea berth in early October 2018, it was not long before MCT received its first vessel, the Polar México, operated by the Hamburg Süd shipping company, a 4,000-TEU container ship full of bananas, pineapples, and materials on board en route from Panama to northern Europe. With this landmark occurrence, APM Terminals' managing director Kenneth Waugh told reporters, “We will no longer be a port for small boats that require merchandise to be transferred to reach their final destination, but a port able to receive today's largest container ships with direct connections and reliable intermodal links to key markets."

Despite the country's geography and infrastructure, Costa Rica ranks 109 out of 140 countries in the World Economic Forum's global port infrastructure index, a far cry from where the government is hoping recent port upgrades will take the country soon. After all, MCT is only a part of a much larger project. The first stage of Barbados-based AMEGA Holdings' effort is to build a rail-bound dry canal across the entire country, from Salinas Bay on the northwest Pacific border with Nicaragua to the Mega Terminal of the Atlantic (MTA), an enlarged version of MCT. If successful, the move will not only prepare the country to handle vastly more trans-Pacific trade, but also preempt efforts by Nicaragua to build its own canal across Cociboca Lake, only 20km north of AMEGA's planned route.