APM Terminals Moin: Costa Rica’s window onto the world

The Port of Moin is strategically important for Costa Rica in a number of ways. First, around 80% of the country’s trade passes through the port each year; second, it servces as the entry point for thousands of seaborne visitors into the country; and finally, its surrounding area is home to some of Costa Rica’s flora and fauna, including a native species of turtle.

Therefore, when APM Terminals won the 33-year concession worth $992 million to design, finance, construct, operate and maintain the port in 2012, it knew it was taking on a lot of responsibility. APM Terminal’s work is now nearing completion so we thought it would be a good time to catch up with Kenneth Waugh, Managing Director of the project, who was able to fill us in on the challenges and successes of the project.

Introduction to the New Container Terminal at Moin

The port being constructed by APM Terminals is located approximately 10km from the existing Moin and Limón port terminals, taking in an area of just over 1,500m2. When the project is delivered in early 2019, its total cost will have reached over $1bn - the biggest infrastructure investment ever made in Costa Rica.

Not only was this investment welcomed, but as Mr. Waugh points out, it was sorely required: “This concession was long needed by the country,” he says. “Costa Rica was once ranked as having among the worst road and port infrastructures in the world. It needed to look for a solution, and needed someone to fund the project, and began looking at companies for a PPP.”  

The Moin terminal will be built on the artificial island, 500 meters out to sea in front of Moin Bay in Limon, Costa Rica. Upon the completion of the project, the Moin terminal will have an area of 80 hectares, with 1500 meters of quay, 5 berths, a 2.2 km breakwater and an access channel 18 meters deep, serving as a shipping hub for the Caribbean and Central America.

He says: “We can see the potential and strategic position of the port for the region – having a deep draft port on the Caribbean side for the transportation not only of Costa Rican exports but also providing the country with growth. It’s also important given the expansion of the Panama Canal: he same kind of large vessel that will pass through the canal will be able to dock at our port – that’s a big jump for Costa Rica.”

And the good news is that everything is on course for port terminal to be finished in February 2019. At the beginning of summer 2018, it received its second batch of new ship-to-shore (STS) and electric rubber-tyre gantry (ERTG) cranes. This equipment will be put to good use by all accounts: One economic study into the port terminal conducted by QBis, estimated that it would eventually increase trade in Costa Rica by a massive 23%.

Environmental Sustainability

Assuming APM’s new terminal generates anything like the kind of economic impact that was expected, it looks like $1 billion well invested. But what of the project’s environmental sustainability? As mentioned above, the region is home to treasured flora and fauna. As Mr. Waugh was quick to point out, the last thing they wanted to generate economic impact if there were environmental consequences.

He says: One of the most important steps we passed was the environmental impact study. First, we needed to measure the baseline. Second, we needed to estimate the impacts the building and operation of the terminal would have on the surroundings, the environment and the flora and fauna. This took a full year, and looked at the currents, winds and how the environment around us behaved. In total, we had over 20 biologists and specialists working on that.”

He stresses that they were also keen to flexible to changes suggested by their environmental experts along the way: “We understood from our research that there were some methods that we could change to minimize the impact our project made on the environment. We also decided to change most of our equipment over to electric, so that we could reduce emissions. That meant that we had to change some designs on the terminal.”

This process even went as far as to effectively babysit the native turtle species nearby, so that they could nest in complete safety: “The beach beside our port is home to many native turtles, so we were keen to include their well being in our report. This included going to the beach, rescuing their eggs and ensuring that they hatched in a safe environment, before releasing them to the ocean.”

Socioeconomic Impact

As you would expect from an investment of the size of the new terminal, its socioeconomic impact will be significant. Mr. Waugh tells us: “It’s located in an economically marginalized area so you’ll see a direct impact straight away. At our high point, we had close to 1,300 people employed on the project. Once construction is fully finished, the construction crew will finish, and then our operating crew will increase to around 650 to 700.”

He continues: “We also established that we needed to work on training and development of our new staff. Through a partnership with INA, the National Technical Training Institute, we were able to develop a new curriculum in which we as a company provided the basic requirements of our employees. We also brought instructors to our bases all over the Americas so that they could see how we work.”

He says that over 80% of its employees are locals, from the city of Limón, all of which can upskill through locally-based courses. This goes right down to grass roots, where the company has the “Tools for Success” program, which provides consulting to schools to show them how to maximize their funding allocations as well as train up children in computers and English – vital modern-day tools for success.

Finally, it emphasizes the importance of women to the future success of Costa Rica. Mr. Waugh says: “Our research showed that the head of the family is most often female, so we wanted to build a program that empowered women to start their own businesses. We have done that with the help of several organizations. In Spanish, the program is called Vozes Vitales (‘vital voices’) and new businesses have already been developed with women at the forefront.”

Partners and Suppliers

The sustainability efforts for APM Terminals in Costa Rica even overlap into its partnerships. Mr. Waugh says: “We have more than 250 suppliers and 90% come from the Limón area, and this has not been easy! We’ve had to work with suppliers, sometimes asking them to formalize their operations in terms of tax and compliance, to including safety programs and social responsibility and even helping them on occasion to build their own working capital.”

A consortium consisting of Van Oord and BAM International was awarded the contract for the design and construction of Phase 2A of the container terminal back in 2013 with a total contract value of $460 million. Van Oord handled the construction of a 1.5-km rock breakwater, reclamation of an area of 40 hectares, as well as soil improvement works, and the dredging of the access channel and turning basin. BAM International is constructing the 650-metre quay wall, as well as the pavement, associated buildings and all utilities

BAM International deploys the contracting activities of Royal BAM, one of Europe’s largest contracting organizations with activities in construction, property, civil engineering, public-private partnerships, mechanical and electrical contracting and engineering in 30 countries across the globe.

Van Oord is also a world as a leading contractor for dredging, marine engineering and offshore energy projects (oil, gas and wind), known for providing innovative solutions to challenges in marine space. With its footprint in over fifty countries across the world

Other important contributors to the project have included RDSea International Inc, and Teledyne RD Instruments who collaborated to provide Real-Time Environmental Monitoring Data for Port Construction, Eptisa, also collaborated with Costa Rican engineering firm CACISA supervise the construction of the access road to the port and Transmares Costa Rica, a major regional player in logistics services in Costa Rica’s burgeoning shipping industry who was instrumental in the delivery of the cranes. Other international providers engaged across the project include Turkey’s ELKON Concrete Batching Plants, Bauer and ZPMC just to mention a few.

The Future

Costa Ricans have an expression, ‘pura vida,’ (‘pure life’), which is an unofficial slogan for the country that encapsulates a way of life. Thanks to the new port terminal at Moin, the life of many Costa Ricans is about to get a little bit better. In February 2019, Costa Rica will have a port terminal that can compete, not just regionally, but globally. Perhaps even better than this, it’s all been achieved in a highly sustainable manner.


Joseph Philips

Head Of Research