All Aboard!


Central to this has been a significant investment, since 2010, in sea ports, cargo terminals, and in infrastructure in and around the ports. These have been crucial both to the […]

Central to this has been a significant investment, since 2010, in sea ports, cargo terminals, and in infrastructure in and around the ports. These have been crucial both to the efficiency of shipping operations in the country, and also to the ability to absorb increased maritime traffic, and the subsequent need for greater capacity.

Much of this is continuing an already healthy trend. Over the past four years, the volume of trade has sharply increased. According to the World Bank, the number of twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), which is the official measurement of container port traffic, increased from 1,461,492 in 2012 to 1,519,952 TEUs in 2013.

The Dominican Republic has seven sea ports and six container terminals at strategic locations mainly on the country’s northern and southern coasts. Many of these have undergone redevelopment in the past few years.

The biggest and most important port is Rio Haina, managed under a 30-year contract by Haina International Terminals, located just west of the capital. By 2013, the port was handling some 70% of all maritime cargo coming into the country via its 15 berths, excluding that processed via the free trade zones (FTZs). Haina International has invested more than $70 million over the past four years, greatly increasing the handling capabilities of the port, and has installed state-of-the-art cargo processing plants. This has given the port a significant advantage, and processing turnaround times have increased by 20%.

The redevelopment of Haina has resulted in almost 3,000m of berth and 250,000 sqm for cargo handling and storage. The port has a capacity of some 25 movements per hour in a container yard with the capacity to process up to 15,000 TEUs a day. In 2013, Haina processed 489,682 TEUs—a 24% increase on the year before. More than 2,000 vessels used the port in the year to June 2014.

The Port of Caucedo is a cargo terminal and logistics center, and also an FTZ. It boasts the country’s only deep-water harbor and handles some 87% of exports that fall under the free trade agreement (FTA) with the US. Following the completion of Phase II of the facility in 2011, the port’s capacity increased to 1.25 million TEUs and an extra 300 meters of deep-water berthing was augmented. Run as part of the DP World Group, it is both port and free zone, just 25km outside the capital. As it enters its second decade of operations, this private enterprise is ever expanding to facilitate the heavy trade between the US and the Central American and Caribbean parties to the CAFTA-DR. The US exported $29.5 billion to these markets in 2013, making it the third largest trading partner of the US in Latin America. Similarly, goods produced in Dominican FTZs are overwhelmingly exported to the US.

Puerto Plata dominates maritime trade in the north-east of the country. The third biggest port by cargo trade, it has recently also been extensively rebuilt to cater for cruise liners. Puerto Plata port managed to increase its cargo volumes five-fold between 2011 and 2013, handling more than 298,000 TEUs.

The port of Santo Domingo, closest to the capital, is built for transit vessels, with a dual-terminal structure. The first terminal, Don Diego, serves transit arrivals, and houses an 820-sqm customs hall. The second, San Souci, is a multi-purpose private port which can handle almost 5,000 passengers and crew each day, as well as accommodating cruise ships. The recent upgrades have significantly increased capacity at both.

Smaller ports such as Puerto Viejo de Azua, Barahona, and Cabo Rojo cover the country’s south and south-western coasts. The east is served by the big sea ports of Samana, La Romana, and San Pedro De Masan.

Perhaps the most challenging thing now is to sustain the current levels of growth in the Dominican Republic’s maritime sector. Yet, the government is putting in place decent measures to facilitate future expansion. These include further investment—many of the ports are scheduled for further upgrades in the coming years, at a cost of more than $70 million. The country is also expanding its FTZ policy and seeking to increase, via the FTZ agreement, its trade with the US. With the American economy picking up speed again in 2014, the Dominican Republic is superbly placed to benefit from its northern neighbor.

The maritime sector will play a vital role in the reviving parts of the country’s tourism industry. In October 2014, Carnival Corp. announced an ambitious project to build new ports in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Together the two would involve an investment of $70 million, totaling six new berths within 100 nautical miles of one another. Amber Cove is opening as a cruise port in 2015 which, together with the other new cruise ports opening in the region as part of the project, will transform the country’s cruise tourism industry.

Amber Cove has a budget of $85 million as part of a joint venture between the Dominican Republic’s Rannik family and Carnival. Amber Cove Cruise Center, near Puerto Plata, will have two berths.

The local area has huge tourism potential, with spectacular green mountains running down to unspoilt beaches, whale-watching and the nearby historic attractions of Puerto Plata. With the first cruise liners due to dock later in 2015, the area is well placed to develop still further. The government is, though, mindful of sustainable tourism, and measures are being taken to protect the pristine environment so attractive to holiday-makers.

In time, Amber Cove will further integrate the Dominican Republic’s trade and tourism industries with those of the region, continuing a timeless tradition of seafaring and freight that has underpinned the country’s growth for so long. This island nation looks set to continue its upward trajectory for many more years to come, as the recent expansion of the main ports increases capacity and turnaround times. With the US economy back on form, and those of Latin America now growing apace, the Dominican Republic will reap the benefits of its focus on maritime trade and tourism in the years ahead.

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