During its nearly 190 years of operations, the Port of Coatzacoalcos has drawn ships to its strategic location. The port is situated in the southern region of the state of Veracruz, Mexico, at the mouth of the Coatzacoalcos River. It is set up along the Gulf of Mexico, and lies at the edge of the Istmo de Tehuantepec, an isthmus that forms the narrowest strip of land in Mexico between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.
This location makes it an ideal connecting point to the Yucatan Peninsula, as well as many of Mexico’s main oil fields and the rest of the country. Due to its spot on the narrow isthmus, the port can serve as a connecting point to Salina Cruz, a large port along the Pacific coast in Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca.
The growing oil industry in Mexico during the last several decades has brought significant growth to the port. Today, the core of Mexico’s petrochemical industry is located just outside of the Port of Coatzacoalcos, and the petrochemical branch of Mexico’s state-owned oil company, Pemex, has its headquarters there. Many companies in the petrochemical industry also carry out operations in the area.
“We’re very focused on industrial clients,” says Gilberto Rios, general director of the Administración Portuaria Integral de Coatzacoalcos, the organization that oversees operations at the Port of Coatzacoalcos.
Today most of the shipments moving through the port are related to the oil industry. In addition to these, the Port of Coatzacoalcos oversees the movement of other types of cargo, including agricultural bulk, mineral bulk, phosphate rock, iron, and fertilizers.
HISTORY OF THE PORT
Operations at the Port of Coatzacoalcos date back to 1825, when it was opened for use under the leadership of Guadalupe Victoria, Mexico’s first president.
The year 1905 marked the ending of various construction projects at the port, including the creation of docks and warehouses. During the following years, due in part to the Mexican Revolution which started in 1910 and the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, activity at the port slowed down for a number of years. The tides shifted, however, during 1960s and 1970s, when the oil industry in the area surrounding the port grew substantially. In 1968, Mexico’s state-owned oil company, Pemex, built the first oil wharf in the port.
Numerous oil complexes began to develop in the following years to support the growing market. “The port regained energy at this time, linking crude oil and oil products,” notes Rios.
Today, the port is near Mexico’s largest cluster of petrochemical complexes, including the Pajaritos complex, the Cangrejera complex, and the Morelos complex. Much of the export of the oil production for Pemex takes place there as well.
The port currently covers an area of 172 hectares of land and consists of two zones: Coatzacoalcos and Pajaritos. Coatzacoalcos has 11 moors, eight warehouses, and 14 private terminals. In addition, four companies have installations there to help with port movements. It has a draugth that reaches up to 37 feet. The Pajaritos enclosure has 18 docks operated by three companies with on-site installations. The draugth in the Pajaritos section is 39 feet.
In addition to the oil industry, the Port of Coatzacoalcos manages commercial shipments, including agricultural bulk, mineral bulk, iron, phosphate rock, and fertilizers. It also offers a specialized service to transport goods directly to connecting railroads. “This service allows a shipment to move from door to door, without having to shift cargo along the way,” says Rios.
The port connects to some of Mexico’s main railroads, including Ferrosur, the country’s southeastern line that leads to the cities of Veracruz, Puebla, and Mexico City. The port also offers access to El Ferrocarril del Istmo de Tehuantepec (FIT), the railway that crosses the country’s narrow isthmus, and to the southern line of Ferrocarril Chiapas Mayab (FCM). Routes to cities such as Campeche, Mérida, and Progreso are also available from the port.
In 2011, the Port of Coatzacoalcos oversaw the movement of approximately 34 million tons of cargo. Of that total amount, the vast majority was related to oil products. Seven million tons, however, were dedicated to commercial cargo. One million tons fell under the agricultural bulk category.
“The port manages the most total cargo of all the ports in Mexico,” explains Rios. The only area in Mexico that oversees more movement is Cayo Arcas, located in the southern Mexican state of Campeche. While Cayo Arcas, which is one of Mexico’s main oil export hubs, ships a larger volume each year, it is not technically a port, says Rios. The area consists of a series of cays and a reef system, and an oil transfer facility is located there.
In other areas, the port ranks high as well. It is second in the country for the management of fluids, and third in agriculture bulk. It is also the only port in the country that offers a specialized service to transport goods directly to and from railways.
“We’re very focused on serving the tendencies and needs of the port’s users,” says Rios. While the port covers imports from various international locations, it also oversees exports that are sent throughout the world. Still, “our strongest commercial relationship is with the United States,” he adds. The port’s specialized railroad service caters to commercial clients in the eastern and southeastern regions.
For petrochemical products, the port has strong ties to New Orleans, La., and Houston, Texas. It also sends petrochemical supplies to Europe and Brazil. The majority of agricultural bulk comes from the United States; in addition, some agricultural products come from South Africa. Mineral bulk arrives from Russia, and phosphate rock is brought over from Africa, notes Rios. “We have contacts and routes all over the world, depending on the needs that our clients have,” he explains.
To maintain its key role on the Mexico shipping scene, the Port of Coatzacoalcos has invested in projects to ensure quality and growth. It has ISO 9000 certification and ISO 14000 certification. It has also been recognized in Mexico as a socially responsible company.
In its commercial cargo division, the company has seen significant growth. “We’ve had an increase of 16 percent this year compared to last year,” says Rios.
Given the ongoing growth at the port, plans are currently underway to expand operations. A project to increase the Pajaritos area has resulted in a new dock that is 270 meters long. It is also working to develop a land area that covers 20 hectares. “We will establish new terminals and port installations to help with logistical chains,” says Rios. The port also offers clients a wheat mill and a grinding mill.
In the coming years, the Port of Coatzacoalcos plans to complete its current project to expand and further develop the Pajaritos section. It also plans to continue improving services, especially in the areas of eliminating paperwork and offering clients electronic options instead. “We’re continually looking to have more efficient operations that will benefit all of the port’s users,” says Rios.