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Cuba's Mariel terminal prepares for a new phase in Cuba - US relations

Cuba's Mariel terminal prepares for a new phase in Cuba - US relations
Cuba’s container terminal in Mariel [TC Mariel], that opened 27 January 2014 with the arrival of the US-based Crowley Marine’s K Breeze, is already reporting healthy cargo volumes, and is well placed to benefit easing of US restrictions with Cuba.

The terminal built by Brazil’s Odebrecht and financed by the Brazilian development bank BNDES, has quietly made its “debut” on the international port operators’ scene.

His commercial director Marcelo Lluveras tells Seatrade Global - in an exclusive interview - that “with the Cuba-US relations new situation, TC Mariel keeps its forecast of growth and development according to the realities of the market”.

“In 2014, TC Mariel moved 230,000 teu and forecast for 2015 aims at having cargo volumes increase to 260,000 teu - 280,000 teu,” Lluveras said.

In December 2014, President Obama announced that the United States was in negotiations with Cuba to normalise diplomatic and commercial relations. Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro met for the first time face to face and held a 30-minute conversation during the Summit of the Americas, in Panama, April 11-12.

The terminal is located 45 km from the capital city Havana, in the province of Artemisa, next to the recently created Mariel Special Development Economic Zone and facing the coast of Florida in the US.

In its first phase of development TC Mariel has a 702 m berth, a 17.9 m - draught alongside the quay, four super post-panamax cranes, 12 RTGs and a 27.7ha-container yard with a present capacity of 820,000 teu. Its 11.5 m access channel will be upgraded to 13.9 m in July 2015 and to 15.9 m in July 2016, explains Lluveras. In its last phase of expansion, TC Mariel will feature 2.4 km of linear quay.

TC Mariel has signed an agreement with PSA International to advise and administrate the terminal.

To date, 51% of TC Mariel movements have been imports and 49% exports. In addition to Crowley Marine that has a long-time US- authorised service, Melfi Marine and the main European and Asian shipping lines call the terminal.

The terminal is aiming to handle around 85% of the country’s exports in the near future, according to Lluveras. Since Last year, all the shipping lines calling Havana have been slowly transferring their operations to TC Mariel intended to replace Havana Port which is expected to become a tourist area for cruise ships arrivals.

“Havana terminal and the neighbouring area have to go through a process of ‘re-urbanisation‘ that may take some years but the idea is to move all cargo operations to TC Mariel,“ he said.

Mariel Special Economic Zone that covers an area of 465.4 sq km is already attracting tens of foreign companies- some having begun operations- or is on the waiting list for government authorisations. Like many other industrial zones, it aims at bringing in foreign investments and industrial development that permits generating exports and promotes the replacement of imports.

“TC Mariel is already a primary customer of the Special Economic Zone,” said Lluveras.

With the inauguration of the expanded Panama Canal in 2016 the terminal is closely watched by regional port operators since TC Mariel is intended to serve as a not only as a gateway into Cuba but “with the results of the conversations between Cuba and the US with regards to our relations and the embargo, we are preparing to compete in the transhipment market in a near future,” he explained.

Although Kingston, Jamaica, Caucedo in the Dominican Republic and Manzanillo International Terminal, Panama, are considered the main transhipment hubs for the Caribbean basin and the Americas, TC Mariel could become a serious competitor in the region given location.

There is no doubt that when the US begins to lift some of the restrictive legislation that form the embargo, the consequences might be extremely positive for TC Mariel which is well equipped to receive the post-panamaxes and large vessels transiting the Panama Canal after mid-2016.