San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Moín Port project

APM Terminals to break ground on new $1 billion deep-water port

Initial construction is set to begin on Costa Rica’s largest infrastructure project, the $1 billion Moín container terminal, after years of delays.

Sunday, President Luis Guillermo Solís and representatives from the Netherlands-based APM Terminals, which owns the port concession, will meet in the Caribbean town of Moín, just outside Limón, for a groundbreaking ceremony. The project promises to create hundreds of jobs and revitalize the long-depressed region.

The first of the project’s three phases is set for completion in three years and involves the construction of an artificial island west of the existing port of Moín. The new container terminal will be 3-km long and span out to cover roughly 100 hectares — nearly 50 football fields.

The new terminal is set to quadruple the port of Moín’s current capacity, allowing for an estimated 2.5 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) annually by 2030, according to the project’s master plan. The Port of Seattle, for example, handled more than 3.4 million TEUs in 2014. The terminal will include specialized berths for container and refrigerated cargo, as well as traditional cargo.

Foreign Minister Alexander Mora told The Tico Times that the port would be the largest of its kind in Central America. It’s designed to receive so-called Post Panamax ships — cargo vessels that are too big to fit through the existing Panama Canal.

A makeshift beach hut frames a cargo ship waiting to dock at Costa Rica’s Moín Port.

Lindsay Fendt/The Tico Times

Mora noted that Moín’s proximity to the Panama Canal also make it an attractive option for transshipment traffic, where vessels traveling through the canal can unload their cargo onto ships headed for European ports.

Despite the fact that 80 percent of Costa Rica’s exports pass through Limón, the country’s Caribbean ports have been long neglected. Costa Rica ranks as the world’s largest single exporter of pineapples and the second largest exporter of bananas after Ecuador. Yet, the country has some of the worst port infrastructure in Latin America.

The last major infrastructure investment by the Atlantic Port Authority was the construction of the 450-meter Limón container terminal, the “muelle alemán,” which opened in 1981. Another dock half as large was built at the Moín facility in 2004.

“Costa Rica has never made a significant investment in the ports in Limón,” Foreign Trade Minister Mora told The Tico Times, noting that many past projects relied on foreign financing.

The port project involves the complicated construction of an artificial island to be built atop the sandy soil of the Caribbean Basin. Mora said there was no way the government could finance the $1 billion project on its own. So it opted to grant a 33-year concession to APM Terminals to design, build and operate the new terminal.

After that period, the project returns to the government of Costa Rica and the Port Authority.

Besides the new terminal, there are additional projects in the works for Moín. America’s Gateway Development Corp. (AMEGA), a Canadian firm, has its own $900 million terminal project waiting in the wings.

This additional terminal would be dedicated solely to international transshipment coming out of the Panama Canal. It could eventually anchor one end of a trans-isthmus railroad, according to José Dengo, the company’s representative in Costa Rica.

Solís is traveling to several sites in the province of Limón this weekend to announce additional development plans for the region.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Post Panamax ships are too big to fit through the expanded Panama Canal. It should have stated that they are too big to fit through the existing Panama Canal. 

Contact Zach Dyer at zdyer@ticotimes.net

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