Ready for business at Lázaro Cárdenas

Latin America’s most advanced container terminal is officially. From the top of its cranes, operator Rodolfo Rumbo Sanchez explains his role and how important the development is for his home city, Mexico’s Lázaro Cárdenas.

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Mexico is a core part of our strategy of investing in growth markets and building state-of-the-art facilities to run more efficiently the supply chain from the heart of Mexico to Asia and the rest of the Americas.
Jose Rueda, Mexico Managing Director APM Terminals

Rodolfo Rumbo Sanchez toggles the joystick, and the cabin slides forward. He adjusts another lever, and lowers the spreader down to lock on to a container. 

He is 52.5 metres above the quayside, at the top of a crane at APM Terminals’ new port at Lázaro Cárdenas, and the wide view stretches from the Pacific Ocean on one side the Mexico’s desert mountains on the other.

There is no vessel being unloaded at present – rather it is a dry run for the routine and manoeuvres that Sanchez will be undertaking in just a few days’ time, after the terminal’s inauguration on April 4.

“When I arrived here, then at the start I was a little bit scared,” says Sanchez, a young man who has a shy nature that quickly warms up when he talks about his job as a ship-to-shore crane operator. “But slowly, slowly I got used to it and with the courses they give us here, and the practice, it got even better and I really like it.”

Supply chain efficiency

With a population of more than 120 million and forecast economic growth of 1.7% in 2017 and 2% in 2018, Mexico is a huge market. It handles Latin America’s third largest container volume after Brazil and Panama. 

With the first phase of the terminal complete, APM Terminals Lázaro Cárdenas has a quay of 750 meters in length for ships and a depth of 16.5 meters - deep enough to receive some of the world’s largest container vessels now in service.

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“Automation will improve efficiency – and this topic is very important in the history of Mexico and Latin America,” says Vice-Admiral Jorge Luis Cruz Ballado, Director General of the Lázaro Cárdenas port.

Latin America’s most advanced port

Not all the crane operators in Lázaro Cárdenas are sitting more than 50 metres above the water, like Rodolfo Rumbo Sanchez. 

The inland gantry cranes, which move containers from the quay to the loading area, are automated, and their operators work from the office – meaning less people in a potentially dangerous area, and more efficient operations. It makes Lázaro Cárdenas the first semi-automated and most advanced port in Latin America.

“Automation will improve efficiency – and this topic is very important in the history of Mexico and Latin America,” says Vice-Admiral Jorge Luis Cruz Ballado, Director General of the Lázaro Cárdenas port. 

Almost silently, the gantry cranes roll up to the huge stacks of containers and pick up their designated cargo. With no person in sight, they roll back and drop off their load where it can be taken on by truck or train. 

“It will bring down costs – because a ship that is stopped, that is transferring goods, is losing money,” says Ballado. “When operations are faster, it increases efficiency and competitiveness. So it’s a really important topic.

“There are only five of these ports in the world, and one of them is in Lázaro Cárdenas. That’s something we can really be proud of.”

By the final phase of the terminal buildout, which is expected between 2027 and 2030, its alongside depth will increase to 18 meters and it will have a 1.5 km-long quay, with an annual throughput capacity of 4.1 million TEUs.

“Mexico is a core part of our strategy of investing in growth markets and building state-of-the-art facilities to run more efficiently the supply chain from the heart of Mexico to Asia and the rest of the Americas,” says APM Terminals Mexico Managing Director Jose Rueda.

A bit more money moving

Sanchez used to work operating cranes on board vessels, and was keen to join APM Terminals as they developed the port. He signed in December and since then has been busy with training and now already receiving vessels, as the port gears up for full operations.

He is from Lázaro Cárdenas, a city of some 180,000 people which is gradually being transformed by the presence and investment from the port as well as other industry, including an ArcelorMittal steel plant. It is linked by intermodal rail to the US rail network and to Mexico’s most important consumer market, Mexico City.

The port received its first official vessel call in February with the arrival of the 9,600 TEU capacity Maersk Salalah on the AC2 Transpacific service from Asia.  On April 4, it will be officially inaugurated in an event attended by Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto, Denmark’s Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen and A.P. Moller – Maersk CEO Søren Skou.

“The terminal really brings benefits to the area,” says Sanchez. “There are more jobs, and more money. And these kind of terminals provide better salaries for the community and facilities in the city.”

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