San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

On Caribbean coast, Moín port expansion underway

The first step in large-scale public works expansion project at Moín port on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast began last week, as Dutch company Van Oord Dredging and Marine Contractors BV set about removing sediment to enlarge the port’s docking area. The dredging project, the first of four major port modernization projects planned at Moín, is expected to cost $14 million and last four months. Moín is located just north of the Caribbean port of Limón.

“When all of the construction is finished, Moín will be much bigger than Limón port,” said Israel Oconitrillo, a spokesman for Costa Rica’s Atlantic Port Authority (Japdeva).

“A new terminal will [eventually] be built next to the port’s main dock, which would open the port to [expanded] trade and shipping… In a few years, Moín could resemble the ports at the Panama canal,” he said.

New dredging will allow larger, 60,000-ton fuel tankers to dock in Moín, an increase in capacity by 20,000 tons per tanker.

“We pay a significant amount of money, about $15 to 20 million each year, on fuel transportation costs,” said Vice President Luis Liberman.

“The tankers that currently dock in Moín are very small, [with a capacity of] about 30,000 to 40,000 tons. When [port] renovation is complete, we should be able to facilitate ships with a capacity of 60,000 to  80,000 tons of fuel. This will greatly reduce the country’s cost for oil and fuel imports,” he said.

Moín expansion could in the long-run help reduce the cost of importing fuel here. Analysts warn that oil prices, approaching $100 a barrel, could hamper global economic recovery. Last week, Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said in a statement that oil prices had approached a “dangerous” level in terms of potential impact on the global economy.

On Tuesday, the Public Services Regulatory Authority (ARESEP) announced that Costa Rican gas prices would increase on Jan. 25. 

“The oil import bills are becoming a threat to the economic recovery. This is a wake-up call to the oil consuming countries and to the oil producers,” Birol said.

When completed, Moín’s dredging project will have extracted more than a million cubic meters of sediment from the banks of the port. The environmental impact of the dredging project was approved by the National Technical Secretariat of the Environment Ministry and is being supervised by the Costa Rican National Oil Refinery (RECOPE).

While dredging should be finished by May, bigger projects are slated to begin a year from now. In December, RECOPE began accepting private bids for a $92 million Moín port expansion project. By late December, RECOPE said that more than 40 companies had expressed interest in participating in port expansion project contract work. RECOPE will announce winning bidders on Mar. 28.

“With the amount of investment that goes into Moín, we fully expect it to be a first-world port at the completion of construction,” said Marco Vargas, a member of President Laura Chinchilla’s cabinet and a former Transportation Minister. “This is a project that has been delayed for many years, and we expect it to finally begin taking shape in the next few months.”

According to RECOPE, companies interested in developing Moín will visit and tour the port on Jan. 28. Construction could begin as early as 2012 and end in 2014. Work will include a 200-meter extension of the north breakwater, construction of two land and two sea docks, and a loading platform. The platforms will be designed to receive crude oil, gasoline, diesel fuel and A-1 jet fuel.

“The purpose of the construction at Moín is to provide jobs and investment for Limón and the other port towns,” said Oconitrillo. “We expect that it will provide more resources for the development of Limón and allow Limón port to specialize in primarily cruise ships.”

Another key element of Moín development is the possible construction of a $700 million transfer terminal by the Americas Gateway Development Corporation (Amega). Currently, Amega is conducting a feasibility study for the project, which would include a 1-km dock and a deep-water access channel. If the deal is approved, work on the terminal could also begin in 2012.

China in on the Action

Following a recent trend in large development projects here, the final piece of Moín development plans include a Chinese-backed $1 billion petroleum refinery project, just inland from the port. As larger fuel tankers dock in Moín, a Chinese refinery, which would be operated by the National Oil and Gas Exploration and Development Corporation, would have the capacity to process 60,000 barrels of oil a day. The refinery could be finished by 2013.

In recent weeks, the Costa Rican immigration office approved visas for 12 Chinese workers to enter Costa Rica and assist in the refinery project. The recently completed $100 million National Stadium in La Sabana, west of San José, was a “gift” from the Chinese government after Costa Rica established diplomatic ties with China in 2007. Construction on the stadium, which was completed in two years, was done entirely by Chinese workers.  

Construction on the refinery is scheduled to begin this year.

Good News for Limoneses

Last week’s ground breaking for the Moín project is a positive sign for local Limón residents. With numerous big-dollar projects slated to begin in upcoming years, job opportunities could soon follow. In November, the National Statistics and Census Institute reported that 24 percent of Limón’s 470,000 residents live in poverty. The unemployment rate there is 11 percent.

In June 2009, former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias signed a bill to invest $80 million into developing the province. While funding was supposed to be earmarked for programs in 17 different areas of need, as of June 2010, little progress had actually been made (TT, Sept. 2, 2010).

Residents still hold out hope that the Moín project will provide the opportunities that never materialized under Arias’ administration (see related story on P9).

“There are good, hardworking and honest people here; people who are prepared for development,” Eduardo Barboza, Limón’s mayor told The Tico Times last October.

“Limón is the best place in the world to invest,” he said.

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