A Ship's Eye View of the Ports

Wed, 01/25/2012 - 14:02

A country’s port infrastructure is vital to the health of the offshore oil and gas industry in general, and particularly those companies focused on providing offshore services. Luís Ocejo Rodríguez, Senior Managing Director of Maritime Transportation at Grupo TMM, a company that provides shipping services to the Mexican oil and gas industry, explains the activities at Mexico’s ports on its Gulf of Mexico shore, and how it affects their business: “Altamira, Tampico, Tuxpan, Veracruz and Coatzacoalcos are closely related to Pemex’s refining and distribution activities on the east coast of Mexico, where some of our product tanker and parcel tanker vessels regularly operate. Ciudad del Carmen and Dos Bocas are the two ports that provide all kinds of logistical support to Pemex’s exploration and production activities in the Gulf of Mexico, where Grupo TMM’s offshore supply fleet is mostly concentrated, and the company has representative offices at both locations.”

Whilst some of the main service companies Pemex contracts for exploration and production activities have their own port facilities, the only private storage terminal for oil and gas is located at Altamira, and Pemex runs the remainder. Ocejo Rodríguez believes that this sector’s development has been very slow despite interest from companies like Grupo TMM to create private storage locations for Pemex. Grupo TMM has highlighted the Port of Tuxpan as an ideal location to place a private terminal. This port already is important for Pemex, as it provides petroleum to the whole central region of the country. Currently, Pemex is using a buoy system for offloading crude at the port, which, Ocejo Rodríguez points out, could result in serious environmental complications should a spill occur. The buoys are located in open water, which would increase the length of time to contain a spill compared to a spill that takes place in a berth to some extent closed off from open water. Ocejo Rodríguez cannot explain the reasoning behind Pemex’s closed attitude, other than to suggest that the company is reluctant to experiment with adapting the way in which it has historically utilized port infrastructure.

One thing that has changed at ports in recent years, says Ocejo Rodríguez, is the number of vessels waiting for spot market jobs. He attributes this phenomenon in large part to the consequences of the BP spill, which made oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico warier about signing long-term shipping contracts. However, Ocejo Rodríguez believes that the worst is over; Pemex will ramp up its long-term activities offshore and, as a result, the spot market will shrink back to its former level.

Most of Mexico’s ports are planning substantial investments in order to continue adapting to the industry. In addition, ever since Mexico deemed deepwater exploration and production to be the next step for the national oil industry, many ports began developing the infrastructure needed for the development of construction and operating hubs for deepwater service and supply companies.