A big wave worth waiting for

Rodrigo Arrea combined a passion for engineering with the stubborn pursuit of a dream to become the senior engineer in charge of his country’s largest ever private infrastructure project – at the age of 31.

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Rodrigo Arrea is in charge of his country’s largest ever private infrastructure project. 1:08

Rodrigo Arrea

  • Age: 31
  • Nationality: Costa Rican
  • Family: Wife and one daughter
  • First job: Superintendent with Van Oord Dredging and Marine Contractors
  • Current job: Senior Civil Engineer at APM Terminals Moin
  • Interests: Family, surfing and staying busy

A decade after first hearing about its possible construction, and subsequently betting his education and career on the possibility, Rodrigo Arrea is right where he always wanted to be – and well aware of the odds he overcame.

“Ten years ago, everyone thought I was really nuts to go for a Master’s degree in coastal and marine engineering. Not only was there no construction happening on our coasts, there wasn’t even an education for it,” laughs 31-year old Arrea, Senior Civil Engineer at APM Terminals Moin, the company’s USD 1 billion project in Costa Rica.

His fascination with how things are made began as a boy growing up in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, he says. Both his father and grandfather were engineers and he was always interested in their work. As a young man, he was interested in mechanical engineering but later on he shifted to civil engineering because of its link to construction.

Soon after graduating with his degree in civil engineering, Arrea heard rumours of plans for a new port. “Right then I decided I wanted to be a part of it, but I also thought it would probably get built while I was in school,” he recalls.

Rodrigo

With no Master’s programme available in Marine and Coastal Engineering in Costa Rica, he completed the EU Erasmus Mundus programme instead. In 2009, he graduated into a global recession. With no news of the port, he kept busy building a bridge and a greenhouse for family members, and surfing.

He managed to land a job as an assistant superintendent with Van Oord in Mexico. One year later his dream came true: a new port was to be built in Moín. He applied for a job on the project and was the first Costa Rican engineer to be hired by APM Terminals.

Living the dream
“It really was my dream to work on this project, so it’s a special experience to actually be here. There’s a joke among engineers that everything in our country was built by our grandparents,” says Arrea. “They could have hired an experienced person to replace me, but they haven’t. I’ve been involved since day one. As an engineer and a Costa Rican, it is fantastic.”

The port is currently in its construction phase. Two international contractors, Van Oord and Bam International, are handling this phase together as a consortium. Activities include the creation of the 400,000 square metre artificial peninsula, the dredging of the access channel and eventual topside civil works for the terminal.

Arrea’s team consists of seven engineers. They are responsible for the design of the terminal but also for ensuring that the project is progressing according to plan and budget. If anything is wrong or changes need to be made in the terminal design, they are the ones responsible for implementing them.

“Changes have a ripple effect on other areas of the terminal, so it’s quite a challenging process,” he says.

The changes are plain to see in the many technical drawings of the port that cover the walls of the engineers’ shared office space. Aerial photographs show the progress of the project since it began in 2015. Outside, the construction is constant.

“The most exciting part of this job is seeing how the efforts of the project team are reflected in the progress of the construction – to see everything we developed on paper coming to life out there in Moín Bay.”