The administration of the Port of Mariel in the Special Economic Zone (ZEDM) of the same name, has announced that the deepening of the bay to 17.5 meters in order to receive Neopanamax generation vessels has been completed. This will allow the port, located 45 kilometers west of Havana, to handle the newest and largest container ships currently transiting the Panama Canal.
Neopanamax-class ships have a length of 366 meters, a width of 52 meters and a draft of 15 meters. Their maximum capacity is 14,000 twenty-foot standard container units (TEU), while the Panamax vessels can load a maximum of 5000 TEU, only about one-third of the Neopanamax generation. The massive increase in capacity became possible with the widening and deepening of the Panama Canal in 2016.
Opened in 2014, Mariel’s container port was designed from the outset to handle the new generation of ships, with four super postpanamax cranes and a 700-meter-long jetty. However, due to the limited depth of 13 meters, only Panamax vessels could enter the bay until now. Originally, it was planned that the deepening would be completed at the same time as the channel expansion. However, the difficult topography has deleyed the investment.
For Cuba, the increase in capacity is accompanied above all by a reduction in freight costs. The newest ships are less expensive due to their higher loading capacity, and it also increases the choice of possible cargo routes for the island: 60 percent of the ships transiting the Panama Canal are now neopanamax vessels, which previously could not dock in Cuba.
The Port of Mariel is the largest and most modern port in Cuba. Since its opening, continuous investments have been made, increasing the original capacity from 250,000 to the current 800,000 TEU per year. If demand is sufficient, the capacity can be expanded to 3 million TEU by extending the pier, according to port authorities. In addition to a highway connection, the port is also linked to Havana by a newly built train line. With the recent deepening, Mariel could become an important regional transshipment port in the future “if circumstances allow,” said the port’s general director, Martín José Spini, referring to the ongoing sanctions by the United States. With a total cost of one billion U.S. dollars, the port was Cuba’s largest infrastructure project in a long time, 682 million of which was contributed as a loan by the Brazilian Bank for Development. Construction was carried out by the Brazilian company Odebrecht.
The Panama Canal is the most important shipping route between Asia and the Americas. Since 1914, it has connected the Atlantic with the Pacific, thus saving the journey around Cape Horn or the crossing of the Strait of Magellan. Today, the 82-kilometer-long lock system is one of the largest transport hubs for international merchant shipping. Every day, an average of 38 ships pass through the canal.
This article was first published on Cuba Heute, a German-language news portal.