The rising tide of maritime traffic is spawning significant investment in, and expansion of, Ecuador's ports, strengthening the country's position as a logistics and transport hub.

With the Panama Canal expansion project, designed to accommodate post-Panamax ships, currently estimated to end in April 2015, the demand for ports able to receive such ships is increasing. In response, Ecuador's ports have been busy preparing to be able to receive these larger ships as the government invests time and money in expansion plans, infrastructure, and dredging projects.

President Rafael Correa has stated that the coordination and planning of Ecuadorean ports is the key to productivity in the country. According to Present Correra, once the investments and expansions are complete, Ecuador will soon have three major seaports (Guayaquil, Manta, and Esmereldas) each capable of moving over 50 million tons of cargo, and a fourth, Puerto Bolívar, to specialize in tourist cruises.


The Port of Guayaquil is the most important seaport in Ecuador, with modern infrastructure that allows it to provide services to all types of ships, and that features multiple warehouses, allowing the storage of any dry or refrigerated cargo. In 2012, the Port of Guayaquil handled over 80% of the country's non-petroleum cargo- close to 1 million TEUs-making it one of the busiest ports in the Caribbean and Latin American region. According to José Miguel Muñoz J. of Contecon Guayaquil, the port has a current storage capacity of 1.5 million TEUs with plenty of space, and plans, to expand. “If we make the access channel to Guayaquil deeper, this will support the increasing trends of trade that Ecuador will be having in the coming years. It is not just more volume, but more capacity and supply of spaces for the shipping lines to transfer more cargo. It is important that the channel is dredged because the economy needs it," he told TBY.

Capitalizing on rising regional and global interest in cooperating with Ecuador as a trading partner, the Ecuadorean government is indeed looking to invest heavily in further port expansions in Guayaquil. The President has declared plans to lengthen the port's drafts from 12 meters to 15 in order to allow post-Panamax ships, the world's largest, into Ecuadorean ports. President Correa has stated that the Port of Guayaquil's dredging to 15 meters is both technically and economically feasible. These efforts are expected to total an investment of around $70 million with the construction beginning in late 2013. The government is hopeful that the project will be concluded in early 2015, coinciding with the completion of the Panama Canal expansion, so that Ecuador can start importing and exporting an even larger volume of containers thanks to the access it will allow to post-Panamax ships.


The Port of Manta, another of Ecuador's larger and most important ports, is already considered a deepwater port, and has the potential to become even more valuable to the country with further expansions, according to Juan Carlos Jairala of the Port Authority of Guayaquil. At present, Manta moves around 3 million tons of cargo annually, and, by 2028, the government expects it to reach a capacity of 10 million tons of cargo per year.


The Port of Esmereldas is the most important port in northwestern Ecuador, and is capable of moving 30 million tons of petroleum per year. It mainly imports steel products, cement, vehicles, and pipes, while exporting wood and palm oil. Being located only 600 kilometers from the Panama Canal puts the Port of Esmereldas in a good position to capitalize on the expected rise in maritime traffic and cargo volume.


Puerto Bolívar, currently known as one of the world's largest shipping ports for bananas, has also been targeted as an important import and export destination, for goods and people alike. Puerto Bolívar should soon be seeing expansions in its dock reserved especially for coastal tourism service, which is currently 60 meters long with a draft of just under 6 meters. The Port currently has several warehouses for storing goods and cargo totaling an area of close to 30,000 sqm, with six bodegas specifically reserved for banana storage.


Ecuador's ports are gearing up to accommodate the larger ships set to pass through the expanded Panama Canal. Larger ships mean more revenue for the ports, and overall economic growth.