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Published: 5 February 2018      

TCP Montevideo sale offer withdrawn

TCP Terminal Cuenca del Plata
Katoen Natie has accused Mediterranean Shipping Company of wanting to "interfere" with its wish to sell the 80% stake it currently holds in Montevideo-based Terminal Cuenca del Plata

MSC announced its own intention to set up a second container terminal in the port, which Antwerp-based, multinational terminal operator and logistics group Katoen Natie believes will generate “uncertainty that prevents the correct progress of the TCP sale process."

In an official statement, KN said: “On the understanding that the initiative presented has as its main objective making [the TCP sale] process fail, we…have decided to suspend the sale process, until ANP formally resolves the initiative request presented by MSC.

“Because both Katoen Natie and the Uruguayan State have provided information regarding plans in the Port of Montevideo to world class companies interested in investing and developing the Cuenca del Plata Terminal, it is very important that the same initiative in question be resolved in the shortest time to avoid possible damage arising from this situation.”

Katoen Natie first announced the TCP sale in May 2017, after having been at loggerheads with the Uruguayan Ports Authority (ANP - which owns the other 20% of TCP) since the previous year. TCP has long argued that ANP is not charging Montecon enough in lease fees at the public terminal and objected when it was all but decided that Montecon would be allowed to operate container STS container gantry cranes, something which the Belgians believe runs contrary to their own concession contract. TCP’s concession, which commenced in 2001, is due to expire in 2031.

As also previously reported in WorldCargo News, the restrictions have forced Montecon into acquiring ever bigger mobile harbour cranes, because of high deck stacks in Montevideo - the last turn port for carriers in Mercosur – and indeed it was the first customer for the container-handling version of Liebherr's giant LHM 800.

In any event, KN's latest statement was triggered by a public statement by ANP's President Alberto Díaz saying that "two companies have shown an interest in setting up operations in the Port of Montevideo. One is a container terminal operator and the other is a forestry pulp shipper.

“These private initiatives do not fall under the Law of Ports, but they are governed by private initiative law, which will require the approval of the ANP and later the government.” He added that "one of the proposals [ie MSC's] involves setting up an entirely new terminal."

Previously MSC was named as a potential buyer for KN's stake in TCP, so clearly KN sees MSC's latest move as a ruse to get TCP on the cheap.

Hedging his bets, Mr Díaz conceded that [MSC's plan] may run contrary to the direction in which ANP is developing the port, although it could also be made to fit into the overall masterplan for the port, as could the proposed cellulose terminal.

ANP's says that its ports master plan is at an "advanced stage of preparation." It will cover development and investment decisions for the next 25 years.

Mr Díaz said that the plan is looking to set up separate ANP business units for cruise ships, dry bulk, containers/general cargo and liquid bulk. A series of workshops will take place at the main players in the ports and political sector, prior to issuing plan in March.

The report is being drawn up in house, but contains input from consultants Valenciaport, which was contracted by the Latin American Development Bank (CAF). "The collaboration of Valenciaport was very important in looking into market possibilities, [involving] demand studies. [These] explain the future and a vision of the region in terms of the [traffic] that we are going to move," said Mr Díaz.

"We will have a road map for the ANP and the Ministry of Transport and Public Works [to follow], in addition to the various business sectors, as well as some other areas, such as the advance of smart ports or a layout for the proposed deep water port at Rocha,” he says.

The previous Montevideo port plan dates back to 1998 and was viewed as being very ambitious. It was somewhat revised in 2013, taking into account the possible impact of the planned Puntas de Sayago terminal and logistics zone and the reopened Quay C.

Montevideo handled a record 939,697 TEU, an increase of 7.6% over the 873,341 TEU handled in 2016, while overall tonnage, increased by this 15.7% to 14.7 Mt. This put serious pressure on the port's infrastructure and at one time in November 15 container barges from Paraguay had been unable to discharge their consignments for want of space on the public quays operated by Montecon.

Delays, at times, were as long as 8-10 days and complaints were made to the government. An agreement was then struck between Montecon and TCP to ensure that the backlog could be dealt with at either terminal.

ANP is seeking to increase quayside lifting capacity to ensure that a similar situation does not occur this year. This might mean having certain cranes dedicated to freight shipped in from Paraguay.

As noted above, ANP is also looking to install STS container cranes on the public quays. “The investments for the cranes have already been defined, with only the deadline needing to be set,” said ANP VP Juan José Domínguez.

Two major projects have been outlined for this year. One of these is the long proposed Puntas de Sayago Terminal, which will be dredged to 4m, allowing fishing vessels and shallow draft boats to moor there.

ANP is also committed to building a fishing terminal at Capurro, for which contracts have been signed. Other work has also been identified to take place this year at the ports of Fray Bentos, Juan Lacaze, La Paloma and Paysandú.

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