Container Port Traffic and Transshipment Traffic around the Caribbean Basin, 2015

Container Port Traffic and Transshipment Traffic around the Caribbean Basin 2015

Source: TEU data from American Association of Port Authorities. Transshipment data adapted from Drewry Shipping Consultants and port authorities.

The Caribbean Basin is a region prone to transshipment activities, particularly for the following factors:

  • Proximity to shipping lanes. Transshipment activities tend to converge in proximity to main long-distance shipping lanes to avoid undue detours (deviations). The Panama Canal essentially acts as a funnel for shipping lanes between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. It is thus not surprising that ports on both sides of the canal (Balboa and Colon) have a dominant transshipment function as stopping to enter the Panama Canal offers the opportunity to drop or pick up cargo. Kingston, Jamaica, has a central location, in proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, the East Coast, and transatlantic routes. On the Pacific Coast, Manzanillo (Mexico) and Callao (Peru) offer transshipment opportunities for the transpacific and South American shipping routes.
  • Costs and land availability. An important factor in transshipment remains terminal costs and efficiency, with ports located in developing countries having lower labor costs. Miami would be a logical location for transshipment, but due to higher costs and cabotage restrictions (Jones Act), nearby Freeport (Bahamas) assumes that role. Several global terminal operators such as DPW (Puerto Caucedo) and HPH (Freeport, Cristobal, and Balboa) have invested in terminal developments in part because several Caribbean port sites have room for expansion with the site selected with higher depth in mind to accommodate the new generations of containerships. One of the prerequisites of a port location, the quality of hinterland access, thus plays a much less important role.

Most of the transshipment activities take place within what is known as the “Caribbean transshipment triangle” that roughly encompasses Colon, Freeport, and Port of Spain at each of its edges. Still, the Caribbean is more composed of clusters of transshipment hubs, each representing a specific market. For instance, transshipment taking place at Port of Spain or Fort-de-France dominantly concerns traffic to smaller ports of the Lesser Antilles. With the expansion of the Panama Canal, transshipment activities in the Caribbean Basin are increasing because NeoPanamax ships can call directly to a centrally located transshipment.