Yildirim Group is a well-established Turkish group with significant port-related business. What were the main reason behind establishing the port in Machala?
Puerto Bolívar dates back to the 1970s and was initially designed to export the banana capacity of El Oro Province, the second-largest producer in the country. The port saw a reconfiguration when the decision to expand Panama Canal was made, since it involved the possibility of large vessels crossing the canal. The next problem was that Ecuador did not have ports large enough to receive these ships compared to countries in the region. One of the solutions was to look for alternatives on the open sea, and we considered Puerto Bolívar. Its enormous potential for the development was considered, not only because of the proximity to the sea but also the hinterland. The banana business was extremely important because of its export capacity. It is the product that shipping companies most pursue in all ports, which is why El Oro Province is the second-largest banana producer. When we took over Puerto Bolívar through a private-public alliance, it only moved 25% of the banana produced in that area. At the moment, we are carrying 40% of those bananas, and the fundamental reason is the lack of direct lines to the markets where bananas go. In terms of banana exports, our target is to account for 75% of El Oro province's exports. Our hinterland is enough for us to have supply for the next 20 years. We have great expectations. We consider it a great project that will contribute significantly to the development of Machala and support northern Peru.
How can you to diversify the products that go through the port?
The diversification options are huge. Yilport's current vision is to convert the port into a multipurpose port, making it an important international port. Our first task was to work on the depth; it was between 7m and 9m deep, and today it is 12.5m. For 2020, we target 16.5m, which would allow us to receive larger capacity vessels. Having a greater port capacity helps boost the exports of other products, and we want to increase our market share. This port would also be the natural port of the city of Cuenca, Ecuador's third-largest city known for its industrial production in tile or home appliances, for example. Additionally, there is a great opportunity to be the port of choice for the northern region of Peru. With the existing infrastructure and the infrastructure to be created, we are providing a new port alternative this region.
What are the challenges in preparing Puerto Bolívar to become a mining exporting port?
We are in conversation with the mining sector and considering its requirements. We are located in the city of Machala, which means some environmental issues need to be solved. The port is at the center of several concentric rings, and we are building new infrastructure specifically to deal with those issues. Minerals are not in greater danger, despite their components, though we must minimize dust emissions in any form. That also involves exports of grain, corn, or wheat. In general, the port needs infrastructure, such as a greater number of warehouses and better tools to control dust. We are trained to do this and are getting ready for it. The Yildirim Group has a background in mining and has the expertise needed in this field.
What role does digitalization play in the port?
We are already taking the first steps of digitization and automation. In December, we launched the Navis system specializing in container control. Through that system, we are connected to the shipping companies of those containers, where we can manage an important data bank to optimize and manage both loading and unloading operations.