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As Port of Cartagena Group celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, it has embarked on a period of diversification as it “responds to the new challenges of rapidly changing container supply chains”.

Twenty-five years ago it had a quay, originally constructed in 1934, that could handle around 200,000 teu annually, with a draught alongside of 10 metres and the largest vessel it could handle was 1,300 teu.

“We had no cranes, no systems and no one would trust us to handle their cargo,” group marking manager Giovanni Benedetti told delegate at this week’s TOC Americas Container Supply Chain event in Cartagena.

“But after a lot of fights and making a lot of mistakes, we now have 5m teu capacity, 15 metres of draught and can handle vessels up to 16,000 teu – and we have customers that trust us,” .

This year Mr Benedetti expects Cartagena to handle 3m teu, and next year he forecasts 3.6m-3.8m teu, which means the port will far outperform many of its regional competitors.

According to Dinesh Sharma, director at Drewry Maritime Advisors, container port throughput volumes across the Latin American region are expected to show a 2% decline this year, although they are also expected to rebound with between 3.4% and 4.1% growth in 2020.

“But what is growth?” asked Mr Benedetti. “For us it is not just about container volumes – the development of our port is based on being a hub for three pillars – container carriers; freight forwarders; and as a location for international distribution centres for multinationals.”

He described the less-than-containerload (LCL) hub opened by Panalpina in the port around a year ago, which changed the face of transhipment operations at Cartagena, as a “pretty successful” example of how it was trying to attract forwarders directly.

He added that targeting these three groups, with the ambition of securing greater amounts of cargo in and around the port, had resulted in the development of three key initiatives.

“The first is to develop what is behind the port, in terms of distribution centres and value-added services, with the aim of diversifying our revenues and lowering the cost of moving containers to the port.

“It also allows us to ask, what is the role of the port in the [cross-border] e-commerce economy, and I believe we will be able to begin offering port-to-door e-commerce solutions,” he added.

A second prong of its strategy is to increase its port-to-port pairings through greater cooperation, to make the journey of a container once it leaves Cartagena for its end destination “more seamless”.

“The shipper is still our customer even once its container has left our port,” he said.

The final strategy is to introduce an extended gate concept for its hinterland customers.

“Ports and terminal operators should address the last mile a lot more – and our shippers need to think about the port as being at their doorstop, because we are putting a lot of effort into this,” he said.

Drewry’s Mr Sharma, who explained that 80% of Cartagena’s volume is transhipment with the remainder gateway traffic, suggested this might explain how Cartagena had managed to buck the trend of declining container volumes in the region.

“I suspect that part of the reason for Cartagena’s growth is the recent establishment of the huge warehouse for Decathalon – this cargo is not just for domestic consumption, but a lot of it is stock that is being stored for the region, and possibly even the US,” he told The Loadstar.

It is also fair to say that Cartagena is embracing the digital revolution, having launched Delta X Ventures, the first start-up accelerator dedicated to the logistics industry in Latin America.

Delta X has so far funded four start-ups, including Mexico’s first digital-only freight forwarder, Nowports, another Mexican venture, Logiety, which has digitalised customs and tariff data, and Colombian last mile e-commerce logistics service provider

Delta X Ventures head of innovation Karina Kure said it was currently preparing to invite another round of applications.

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