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WEDA México Chapter Holds First Meeting

Javier Gilberto Carrillo Koo, international trade specialist with the Panama Canal Authority.

Javier Gilberto Carrillo Koo, international trade specialist with the Panama Canal Authority.

The newly-revived Western Dredging Association (WEDA) Mexico Chapter held its first meeting from September 1 to 2 at Centro Asturiano de Polanco in Mexico City. The chapter meeting—well attended by both members of the Mexican dredging community and vendors from across the world—featured presentations on the Panama Canal expansion, ongoing development projects at Mexico’s ports and along the country’s waterways, and the outlook for the dredging industry in the northernmost Latin American country.

Ram Mohan, president of WEDA since 2013, greeted the crowd at the start of the chapter meeting, emphasizing Mexico’s place in the dredging community.

“Mexico has a strong history in dredging,” Mohan said. “[It has] a vast coastline, developed by federal, state, local and private ports.”

Mexico is home to 117 state- and privately operated ports scattered across the country’s 9,330-kilometer (5,800-mile) coastline. The country’s ports handle close to 300 million tons of cargo annually.

Ovidio Noval Nicolau, general director of the Coatzacoalcos Port Authority.

The momentum toward a revamped WEDA Mexico Chapter started about two years ago with the formation of the WEDA Latin America Committee, aimed at reinvigorating Latin American chapters in Mexico, Panama and Brazil, according to Michael Gerhardt, chairman of the WEDA Latin America Committee, and assistant executive director for Dredging Contractors of America.

“The Mexico Chapter had been dormant for a long while and without leadership. After identifying and approving Ricardo Hernandez, a resident of Mexico City, as the new chapter president, we began brainstorming for a 2015 Mexico Chapter meeting,” Gerhardt said.

IMPACT OF PANAMA CANAL EXPANSION

The presenter who arguably garnered the most attention was Javier Gilberto Carrillo Koo, international trade specialist with the Panama Canal Authority, who spoke on the projected regional impacts of the forthcoming canal expansion and the role dredging plays in the ongoing operation of the 101-year-old canal.

“Dredging is like the breakfast of the Panama Canal,” Carrillo said. “We have to dredge every day just like we have to eat breakfast every day.”

Reduced draft from shoaling or drought has had a direct impact on the cargo capacity of vessels traversing the canal, thus the need to dredge and the motivation to expand the canal to a 50-foot draft. The Panama Canal has seen enormous increases in cargo from 1955 to 2014, nearly seven times more. Available draft and container capacity are crucial to the success of the Panama Canal, Carrillo said.

“Transits have leveled off and capacity of vessels has shot up,” he said.

As the Panama Canal’s draft deepens to 50 feet, ports along both coasts of the Americas must ready themselves to receive those larger vessels or increased cargo.

“Who’s going to handle that trade? It has to go from the factory to the port, from the port to the vessel, from the vessel through the canal, from the canal to the destination port, from the destination port to the hinterland,” Carrillo said.

Carrillo was asked to comment on the widely publicized leak in one of the canal’s new chambers—specifically whether the leak could lead to a delay in the expanded locks coming online in April 2016. He said the projected time needed to correct the faulty cement is just a month, keeping April 2016 within reach.

“We’re actually glad it happened now and not during the normal operation of the expanded lock,” Carrillo said.

Carrillo added that drought conditions at the canal resulting from El Niño actually pose a greater threat to the maximum operational depth on the canal.

Ernesto Fernandez Monge, senior international trade consultant representing the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Committee on Ports, addressed port competitiveness and infrastructure in Mexico, with an eye toward how other countries are preparing for the Panama Canal expansion.

“The effect of [the expansion] is important. All in the region are getting ready,” he said.

Fernandez Monge pointed to waterway and port projects underway in Colombia along the Magdalena River and at Brazil’s ports and along the Amazon, as well as the groundwork underway to launch a trans-ocean canal in Nicaragua. Similarly, Mexico must continue to invest in its ports.

“It’s clear there’s a need to improve infrastructure in order to stay competitive globally,” he said.

MEXICO’S TRANSOCEANIC CORRIDOR

Ovidio Noval Nicolau, general director of the Coatzacoalcos Port Authority, outlined Mexico’s plans for a transoceanic, multimodal corridor between Coatzacoalcos on the Gulf of Mexico and Salina Cruz on the Pacific.

Unlike the canal bisecting Panama, the corridor connecting Coatzacoalcos and Salina Cruz—traversing the narrowest point in Mexico—will involve vessels, railways and highways. The corridor will not only improve trade logistics between both coasts of Mexico, the U.S. and beyond, it will also bring economic growth to a part of Mexico often left behind.

“The idea is to take advantage [of the geography] to establish an industrial corridor in the area, so we can bring development to this area that’s been traditionally forgotten by the government,” Noval Nicolau said.

The necessary port expansions at Coatzacoalcos and Salina Cruz will require significant dredge work, Noval Nicolau said, and the dredged material will primarily be placed offshore. The project, which will be financed through public-private partnerships, will begin in earnest in 2016, according to Noval Nicolau, who said he expects around one million cubic meters (1.31 million cubic yards) of needed dredging per year.

Other speakers at the WEDA Mexico Chapter meeting included: Ricardo Diaz de Leon Valdovinos, infrastructure and mining coordinator for ProMexico; Celso Morales Muñoz with the Mexican Ministry of Communications and Transportation; Russ Tolle, senior program manager for inland navigation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Frederick Paup, chairman of the board/executive vice president of Manson Construction Company; Basel Yousef, president of Dredge Yard; Arturo Cors de la Fuente, business and institutional relations director for CICE Group; Juan Ignacio Cruz Lomeli, general manager of Desazolves y Dragados; Leandro Montemayor, consultant and representative for Dredge Central LLC and Rohr-Idreco Dredge Systems; Neektrade business development manager Francisco de Asis; and Francisco Liaño Carrera, engineering manager for the Veracruz Port Authority.

“We hope this will be the first of many more congresses,” WEDA Mexico Chapter President Ricardo Hernandez said.

Following the conference, Gerhardt said he was impressed by the enthusiasm at the WEDA Mexico Chapter meeting and looks forward to the role the chapter will play in the association as a whole.

“The buzz in the room for that day and a half was electric,” he said. “To keep the momentum going, we will consider tying Mexico into our next Latin American Chapter meeting, which will most likely be in Panama next year.”

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