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IADC Seminar Students Tour Açu Superport

Marco Faustini, center, public relations officer of LLX, gives seminar students an overview of the project next to a model of the Acu Superport.  The group then took a technical tour of the site.

Marco Faustini, center, public relations officer of LLX, gives seminar students an overview of the project next to a model of the Acu Superport. The group then took a technical tour of the site.

For millennia, the most action happening in the vast and sparsely populated expanse of jungle-backed beach south of São João da Barra, Brazil, was the sea turtle nesting season. Starting each December, the shelled giants would crawl out of the water and lay their eggs along the wide stretches of white sand; by March, tens of thousands of infant marine turtles would be journeying into the sea for the first time.

The students and instructors on the offshore terminal under construction.

But the turtles have been upstaged in a very big way.

The richest man in Brazil, Eike Batista, has chosen this site, about 185 miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro, to carve out one of the world’s largest ports—Açu Superport. The project is the site of major dredging—enough to make space for some 17 kilometers of piers in on and offshore terminals, with berths for up to 47 vessels.  In the onshore terminal alone, some 38 million cubic meters (50 million cubic yards) of sand has already been dredged, and an additional five million cubic meters (seven million cubic yards) will be removed by the end of this year. Royal Boskalis Westminster received the contract for the onshore dredging, and Jan de Nul and Shanghai Dredging Company were hired for offshore dredging.  In addition to overseeing that work, Batista’s logistics company LLX is also taking care that the sea turtles’ show goes on as well: They have paused dredging at parts of the project site for months at a time to allow for the marine turtle nesting to continue as usual. They also implemented a marine turtle nesting monitoring program, and constructed a marine turtle rehabilitation and recovery center.

In April, a group of about 25 participants in the International Association of Dredging Companies’ 41st International Seminar on Dredging and Reclamation visited the port. The visit was a highlight of the seminar, which took place in Buzios, a resort town about three hours southwest of the Açu Superport. The group was welcomed and received an overview of the project in the onsite visitor’s center, and then was provided a technical visit to the construction and dredging areas by Marco Faustini, a public relations specialist for LLX. After the tour, a barge took the participants to Boskalis’s hopper dredge Cyrus II, one of four dredges onsite. The lunch was hosted by Boskalis and the crew of the Cyrus.

The port is being built at such a tremendous size because Brazil’s economy has been surging so precipitously that its infrastructure has strained to keep up, and the country is sorely in need of expanded and modernized ports. Already, many of Brazil’s 34 major ports are at capacity, and the rest are expected to be oversubscribed within five years. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has promised to invest billions into improving port and other transportation infrastructure, but politics have made it difficult to deliver on that promise quickly. So Batista, whose mining company and oil exploration and production companies have a lot to gain with improved logistics, decided to take matters into his own hands and build a massive port in Brazil’s economically active southeastern region.

The cutter dredge Taurus II paused in the inland channel that it and the hopper dredge Cyrus II were working on.

Construction began on the project in 2007. The end goal is a 90-square-kilometer (35-square-mile) port and industrial complex—an area larger than the island of Manhattan. About 10 kilometers away, another of Batista’s companies will build a planned community to accommodate some 250,000 people—the 50,000 workers imagined to eventually work at the site and their families (about 8,000 are currently working at the site).  There is no natural harbor at the port site, and the beachfront land was low and swampy—both problems that could be solved by dredging.

The superport is nothing if not ambitious: It will contain two terminals, one offshore and one onshore, as well as the largest shipyard in the Americas. The offshore terminal, called TX1, is at the end of a three-kilometer (1.9 mile) pier and is dredged to a depth of 21 meters (69 feet), though it will eventually be expanded to 26 meters (85 feet). It will accommodate a tugboat pier, nine oil and iron-ore piers, an approach channel and turning basin; so far, all of these are complete except the oil and iron-ore piers, two of which are completed so far. Eventually, the terminal will be able to handle up to 100 million metric tons of iron ore a year and 1.2 million barrels of oil a day. The breakwater protecting TX1 will be 2.2 kilometers (1.4 miles) long, constructed of concrete blocks, and also serving as a pier for handling oil. The blocks for the breakwater are being constructed by FCC in Spain.

The onshore terminal, called TX2, will handle liquid and solid bulk, coal, pig iron, slag, granite and steel products, and will be the home of the massive naval shipyard. The L-shaped terminal is 6.5 kilometers (four miles) long and 300 meters (330 yards) wide.  The channel will be dredged to 14.5 meters this first phase, about 18 meters in a second phase, and perhaps eventually as deep as 26 meters. The breakwater is 549 meters (600 feet) long on the north and 511 meters  (meters (560 feet) on the south. The entrance channel is 5.1 kilometers (3.2 miles) long.

The industrial complex will also include a steel plant, cement plants, large warehouse facilities, a floating regasification unit, a crude oil processing plant, a power plant, a metal mechanic cluster (where General Electric Co. has already reserved property), Brazil’s largest thermal energy plant, offices for government agencies, and a large mall, commercial area, and bus terminal for the anticipated workers. The complex will be connected to Highway 101—the primary corridor running along Brazil’s eastern coastline—by an eight-lane thoroughfare.

Participants of the seminar visit the bridge of the hopper dredge Cyrus II. Instructor Frans Uelman, right, of Boskalis discusses the operation of the vessel. The students are, from left, Daniel Benevides of Van Oord, Felipe Martins of INPH, Eduardo Vallarino of Manzanillo International Terminal - Panama, Rodolfo Geyer of Bahia Mineracao, and Alberto Palomar of Boskalis Argentina.

The project is already well underway. Jan de Nul was involved in the process early, and with their trailing suction hopper dredge Cristobal Colon—a mega vessel with a hopper capacity of 46,000 cubic meters. The dredge conducted land reclamation in the area to be occupied by the crude oil processing facility. Shanghai Dredging Company using the THSD Xin Hai Feng, dredged the TX1 terminal’s channel, said Faustini.

But most of the dredging has been conducted by Boskalis, who in 2011 won a $260 million contract to dredge the access and inner channels, a turning basin, a harbor basin, and conduct land reclamation. To do this work, they have employed the 850mm (33.5 inch) cutter suction dredge Taurus II, the 850mm (33.5 inch) hopper dredge Cyrus II, the 13,255 cubic meter (17,335 cubic yard) hopper dredge Seaway, and the 1,400 horsepower backhoe dredge Cornelius.

Thus far, the vessels have dredged the entrance channel and the majority of the L-shaped onshore terminal, with about a kilometer (0.6 miles) left to dredge.  Cyrus and Taurus cut down to about nine meters of depth, which is the sand limit in the area. Then, Cornelius and Seaway deepen the channel further to 14.5 meters, explained engineer Ricardo Marchado of LLX.

Frans Uelman, a senior project engineer with Boskalis, who participated in the site visit with the IADC seminar, said the project reminded him of other major projects that had been fabricated somewhere that had been previously barren. He also marveled at the size and ambition of the Superport.

“It’s kind of like Dubai, a huge project that starts from nothing,” Uelman said.

The first phase of the project must finish before December, because that is when the sea turtle nesting season begins again. Because of environmental regulations, no dredging can take place offshore between December and March each year, and no dredging traffic can cross the beach line in that period of time either, which means the cutter dredges cannot operate, Marchado said.

This created a tight timeline at the beginning of Boskalis’s dredging work, which started in September of 2011; the entrance channel and dredging work across the beach line had to be complete within three months, or they wouldn’t be able to do any onshore work until March. They got through, if barely, so they could continue to work on dredging the onshore project while waiting for the turtle nesting season to end.

Despite the inconvenience, LLX is serious about its attention to the sea turtles. It has built a clinic for the treatment of injured sea turtles and has overseen the eggs during the nesting period to ensure they are not injured or damaged.

“We have reintroduced 50,000 turtles to the wild,” said Faustini.

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