Ports in Spain posted record figures for dry bulk throughout 2017, with the uptick in traffic continuing into the current year. As the chart below shows, all ports in the top ten posted positive growth, with the entire ports network overseen by the Puertos del Estado organization, registering dry bulk growth of almost 10% when compared to 2016.

The north-western port of Ferrol-San Cibrao was Spain’s second leading dry bulk port in 2018, increasing traffic by 11.16% to 10.45mt (million tonnes), mostly due to significant increases in imported coal for electricity generation. Despite this, the port authority remains reluctant to forecast traffic for 2018, simply pointing out that it handles a diverse range of commodities that are impacted by lots of variables. Nevertheless, it hopes to at least maintain its current tonnage.

There are no capacity problems at all at the port, which can continue to grow in terms of dry bulk. This is especially true of the outer harbour development, where space is available for dry bulk terminals of any type, something which is possible given draught of 20 metres alongside all of them.

Ferrol-San Cibrao handles a large portfolio of commodities, including coal, bauxite, scrap and aluminium. Significantly, volumes are relatively stable within certain normal variations brought about by known circumstances.

Nevertheless, the port authority is working to attract all types of new dry bulk, with terminal operators prepared to consider any particular commodity. There are, in addition, supporting logistics and networks all around the port. 

Interestingly, the use of rail by many port clients is relatively low, although major efforts are being made to improve this situation, with the port authority working with terminal operators in the inner port to boost the overall percentage. At the same time, a new rail connection is to be built to the outer harbour.

Given the broad portfolio of commodities, the port has to be mindful of contamination and all operators have adopted high standards to achieve this, all of which has been overseen by the port authority. Curiously, Ferrol-San Cibrao has not been a value-added port in terms of processing dry bulk, although space does exist should this become necessary in the future.

The port has no problems with draught, hence bulk carriers of any size can operate there, especially in the outer harbour, where vessels requiring 20 metres of water can access facilities.

Last year was a record one for the Port of Huelva, which sits on Spain’s southern Atlantic coastline. Total traffic amounted to 32.3mt, of which dry bulk accounted for 6.6mt, compared to the previous year’s figure of 5.8mt, equivalent to growth of 13%.

Most bulks did well, but three, in particular, stood out.

Minerals ores, especially copper and zinc concentrates, grew by 6% to 2.7mt. Today, Huelva remains Spain’s reference port for this type of traffic, with 42% of overall bulk traffic accounted for by this sector.

There was also a 60% increase in grain for livestock and foodstuffs, especially cereals and derivatives, which amounted to 2.5mt. This is now 38% of the total bulk business and also encompasses feed and fodder.

Finally, although on a smaller scale, coal and petcoke registered a hike of almost 90%, reaching a year-end figure of 700,000 tonnes, approximately 10% of the total.

Growth in the early part of 2018 suggests that Huelva should again do well in 2018, with an initial forecast of around 7mt of dry bulk.

Recent studies show that the port can continue to grow its traffic base, given a combined berthing line of 2,400 metres and sufficient quayside lift to absorb future growth. Furthermore, the port can offer covered storage of 400,000m2. Unlike most Spanish ports, Huelva has more than enough surrounding space to grow should the need arise to boost capacity. It is already the largest port in the country, covering an area of 1,700ha.

As well as consolidating existing traffic, the port authority is also seeking to diversify into other areas, with various studies under way to identify good fits. One of these may well be a role as a port to warehouse and ultimately distribute bulks to emerging markets further south. In a role as a “trading” port, it would also be looking to add value to raw materials prior to their dispatch. Indeed, the port authority stresses that any company wanting to use the port as a logistics hub would find that the necessary equipment to do so is probably already in place, as is the infrastructure and supporting technology.

Around 15%, or 900,000 tonnes, of dry bulk traffic is moved by rail, with imports being particularly important in this respect. This traffic is registering continuing growth.

“As part of its Intermodal Strategy, the Port of Huelva is promoting the use of rail as one of its main pillars of economic and environmental efficiency in the terrestrial transport of freight,” notes a spokesperson, adding that, within the service area of the port, there are 45km of sidings and running lines, which generated 2,400 train operations last year, of which 840 had involved only dry bulk.

Thanks to co-financing by the EU, the ‘Intermodal Platform of the Port of Huelva’ project has enabled the port to build a discharge pit for solid bulk arriving by train, which has helped boost turnaround times and reduce pollution. In fact, the port has its own air quality forecast system in place, which was developed as part of the ‘Safe & Green Port’ programme. This gives a 24- hour warning, based on metrological conditions and the type of operation that is to take place.

Dry bulk handling takes place both at public quays and at a private terminal concession operated by Impala Terminals, where added value services can be provided. One of these is the blending of copper concentrates, significantly increasing their market value.

At present, the main dry bulk quay, Muelle Ingeniero Juan Gonzalo, is being upgraded to enable an intermodal logistics hub to be created that has state-of-the-art equipment and is highly efficient, as well as safe.

According to the port authority, whatever value added services that can be offered will help boost growth at the port and are to be encouraged.

Finally, in respect of vessel size, the spokesperson notes that existing infrastructure is sufficient to accommodate the various sizes of bulk carrier calling at the port, with maximum draught of 12 metres available. Nevertheless, studies are undertaken of market trends and vessel sizes to make sure that no restrictions have to be imposed should vessels grow and this is presently the case at the port.

In 2017, the Spanish Mediterranean Port of Castello´n de la Plana (rendered locally as PortCastello´) handled 6.46mt of dry bulk traffic, equivalent to an increase of almost 25%. The port is now the fifth most important in Spain in respect of this type of traffic.

“We’re just 23,000 tonnes behind Huelva, in fourth place,” says port authority president Francisco Toledo. “The main reason for the dramatic growth is an increase in the import of raw materials for the ceramics sector, mainly clay and feldspar.”

In the first two months of this year, the increase in dry bulk traffic has been in the order of 30% and the expectation is that the port will end the year with a similar increase to 2017, as long as the economy continues to do well.

Toledo recognizes that dry bulk requires  a lot of specialist storage space on land. Last year, Castello´n made a further area of 90,000m2 available for dry bulk, requiring investment of €6 million. This reflected the fact that the port was handling a further 1.2mt annually.

“In 2018, we going to bring more areas into operation in the south dock. Fortunately, we have enough space available to keep on growing,” he notes.

The port handles three main commodities: raw materials for ceramics, agribulk and pet coke. It is the first of these that is showing the most dramatic growth; pet coke traffic is essentially stable; agribulk has declined slightly, given the limitations the port currently has.

“At the moment, we have projects under consideration related to the agribulk sector, which we hope to be able to grow,” says Toledo. “Work should start in a few months’ time.”

The amount of dry bulk Castello´n handles is all the more astonishing given the fact that the port currently has no effective rail connection.

“This is a handicap that we are looking to resolve and a project is on hand to provide a rail connection to the port’s

southern dock. This could enter service in 2020. Spain cannot continue to have the low level of land transport by rail that it has at present, either in terms of competitive- ness or the environment. Castello´n there- fore has to have a good rail connection because the growth in rail transport will be unstoppable within a few years time.”

Another area where Castello´n is seeing growth is in vessel size. In 2017, the port beat previous records no fewer than three times in terms of the largest bulk carrier it had received. It’s a trend that should continue, as lines seek to cut costs. Unlike other ports in Spain, Castello´n has a draught of 16 metres and can handle virtually any vessel currently deployed in this trade.

In recent years, the growth in dry bulk traffic has meant that the port has introduced several environmental protection features and is due to bring in even more.

In 2017, for example, 150 metres of wind protection panels were erected to study the decrease of the dispersion of dust particles in the atmosphere. Given their success, the port has invested in two new ones.

Furthermore, given the high concentration of HGV traffic in and around the port, a package of measures has been introduced given the high levels of emissions these make. For example, some traffic flows have been changed to keep them away from sensitive areas, maximum speed has been reduced to 30km/h and speeds checked by radar. Those drivers who have failed to completely sheet down loads have also been fined, while sprinkler systems have also been introduced.

“In addition, a large coke warehouse has been erected at a cost to BP of €14 million, which has definitely eliminated the problems associated with outdoor storage,” says Toledo. Other operators have also invested in covered warehousing.

“Finally, I would like to point out that the port authority is working on an ambitious project to turn PortCastello´ into a Smart Green Port.”

Although none of the port’s dry bulk terminals offers added value services as such, other companies located within the port do. Castello´n offers facilities to grind, dry and mix clay in order to obtain the product that best suits the needs of each company. 

“A new facility is currently under construction and will be completed shortly, which shows that effectively adding value to products is a growing area because it is what increases profit margins,” says Toledo.

Cartagena, which is located on the Mediterranean coast, is another of Spain’s major dry bulk ports. Last year, traffic rose by almost 10% to 5.82mt, making it Spain’s sixth most important port for this type of traffic.

One of the main reasons for the upswing in traffic is that the new Repsol refinery now uses the port to export the pet coke that it makes. There were also notable increases in imports of cereals and derivatives that are used to make animal feed.

As for 2018, the port authority notes that over the past decade the average annual increase in traffic has been in the order of 4% and that this is, once again, the target that they are aiming for.

Significantly, the port is well placed to continue adding volume, since there is sufficient capacity to double existing traffic levels. Indeed, in the past few years, land reclamation projects have seen 60ha of land won back from the sea, which has been used to site two brand new dry bulk terminals and a logistics activity area.

The types of dry bulk commodity handled by Cartagena split neatly between vegetable and mineral. In the former, there is agribulk: cereals and derivatives, soya beans, animal feed and fodder. The latter mostly comprises solid fuel. Both sectors are increasing in volume. However, in the past, construction materials used to constitute major traffic for the port, but ever since the financial crisis of 2010 and following the building of the afore- mentioned Repsol plant, construction materials have given way to solid fuel.

Not resting on its laurels, the port authority is trying to increase scrap metal exports. At present, there is a dedicated 230,000m2 scrap terminal, which is accessed via a 576-metre quay that has alongside draught of 21 metres. Quayside lift consists of two MHCs, of 100 tonnes and 140 tonnes respectively.

Cartagena is another of Spain’s port that currently relies exclusively on road for movement of dry bulk. However, all this is to change considerably in the near future, since a rail connection is being built that will encompass access to all terminals by the end of the year.

In terms of the environment, Cartagena has been recognized by the European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) as one of the top five ports in Europe in terms of sustainability. Indeed, in the past few years, a series of measures has been undertaken to improve the efficiency of the water and electricity networks to reduce usage by more than 10%.

Cartagena offers users 100,000m2 of covered warehousing and 400,000m2 of open stockpile for those companies that are established manufacturers in the port and which effectively use it as their distribution hub. Various examples are Bunge, Fomdesa, Holcim, Lafarge, Agrosur, Repsol and Qui´mica del Estroncio.

Finally, in respect of vessel sizes, Cartagena remains one of Spain’s deepest draught ports, capable of receiving vessels drawing up to 21 metres of water, so can therefore accommodate any bulk carrier currently afloat.

Spain’s south-easterly port of Almeri´a registered a 19.74% increase in dry bulk traffic last year, in which time it handled 5.62mt.

The port itself is divided between harbour operations at Almeri´a and at Carboneras. At the former, gypsum exports rose by 32% and salt by 84%; at the latter, coal imports were up 28% while gypsum exports grew by 41%.

To understand why coal imports went up so strongly, it is important to realize that in years of low rainfall, as was the case last year, Spain produces less hydroelectric power and therefore has to import more coal. On occasions, one of the two adjacent Endesa power stations fed from Carboneras is closed for maintenance and that results in less coal being required.

However, last year, there was also a rise in demand for coal in the off-shore Balearic islands, with new infrastructure at the port now dedicated to this.

As for how 2018 might pan out, coal traffic will again depend heavily on rainfall, making predictions difficult to make so early in the year.

The overall feeling at the port is that current infrastructure is adequate to deal with demand, especially since this varies between broadly established parameters.

A port authority spokesperson, for example, explains that while last year’s coal imports increased dramatically, this was still within previously understood expansion ranges, which will sometimes mean that overall volumes of dry bulk at the port will rise and fall.

While in the longer term gypsum exports have remained stable, clinker has fallen.

As for new possible dry bulk commodities, the port authority reports that the re-opening of the iron ore mine at Guadi´x is under consideration. However, it remains to be seen if it is finally put into production and whether it will be Almeri´a or Carboneras that handles shipments.

Both ports are unusual in that rail plays no part in the movement of dry bulk consignments, despite the large volumes involved. Previously, iron ore was shipped by rail and that might recommence if the above mentioned mine reopens.

Mindful of the environmental contam- ination potential of its traffic, the port authority has built a new dust trap fence and introduced sprinkler systems, while agreements have been struck with operators to close down operations whenever there are strong winds. An agreement has also been signed with a university to monitor particle collectors.

Although neither Almeri´a nor Carboneras offers added value services, there is a bagging operation for imported peat that takes place at one of the port’s warehouses.

Vessels sizes do appear to be on the increase, especially at Carboneras, which sees calls from large coal bulk carriers.

In the Port of Bilbao, dry bulk traffic last year grew by 4% to 4.5mt. Around 22% of this traffic is accounted for by soya beans, which grew for the second year running. The port also handles considerable quantities of cement and clinker, as well as other non-metallic minerals.

For last year, and despite the threat of Brexit, the UK remained Bilbao’s leading market, with dry bulk tonnage to and from that country up 62%.

At present, the port authority doesn’t have any investment planned for new dry bulk facilities, nor it is actively pursuing any new commodities for the moment. However, the port is operated by various concessionaires, who are continuing reviewing their traffic base.