Finding the sweet spot

For importers and exporters accustomed to small vessels, long delays and limited container capacity in Guatemala, the new APM Terminals Quetzal facility promises a change for the better. 

Finding sweet spot
With modern equipment and processes, APM Terminals Quetzal will bring bigger vessels and fast operations to Guatemala, enabling the next phase of growth for customers like Grupo Pantaleon, the country’s leading sugar exporter. Pictured: Manolo Muralles, Export Sales Manager for Grupo Pantaleon. Photo: Jesper Schwartz

In the sugar business, nothing goes to waste. For Grupo Pantaleon, Guatemala’s largest producer and exporter of sugar, this is a principle that has served the 165-year old conglomerate well.

Volatile sugar prices and thin margins mean that Pantaleon must squeeze every ounce of value from its 65,000 hectares of sugar cane, transforming the tall grass-like crop into all kinds of sugar, molasses, alcohol, fertiliser and even electricity – while paying strict attention to their expenses, including those linked to transport and logistics. 

“Sugar is a tough business,” says Manolo Muralles, Export Sales Manager at Grupo Pantaleon. “Pantaleon is a leader in this industry because we have good people, a diversified product portfolio and because we keep an eye on cost,” he says. “The new container shipping terminal has great potential in terms of improving the efficiency and lowering the costs of exporters like us and Guatemalan business, in general.”

Modern port and processes

Greater efficiency is precisely what APM Terminals Quetzal aims to bring to customers and the region with its new facility in the Port of Quetzal on Guatemala’s Pacific coast.

Since acquiring the terminal from Grup Maritim TCB in March 2016, APM Terminals has invested approximately USD 190 million in the facility in order to create a unique set of advantages compared to the services provided by the national, multi-purpose terminal next door. Some of these are in the form of physical improvements, which include a deeper draft for ships as large as 9,000 TEUs; a much larger container yard and the installation of the country’s first ship-to-shore (STS) cranes.


The terminal in brief

  • APM Terminals Quetzal was acquired in March 2016 as part of APM Terminals’ USD 1 billion purchase of Grup Maritim TCB’s portfolio of port and rail interests.
  • After some delays, including legal issues related to pre-acquisition activities, the terminal began its vessel operations in March 2017.
  • The port of Quetzal is Guatemala’s third-busiest container port, and the largest port on Guatemala’s Pacific Coast.
  • APM Terminals Quetzal represents new capacity for Guatemala’s expanding economy; the World Bank has projected an economic growth rate of 3.4% in Guatemala in 2017.

Others relate to better processes, such as scheduled berthing windows for the vessels; automatic truck gates with an appointment system for pickups and drop-offs; a central customs inspection centre and a fingerprint scanning security system for everyone entering the terminal.

“Up to now, Guatemala has been served by small feeder ships, sub-standard operations and inefficient processes,” says Gabriel Corrales, Managing Director at APM Terminals Quetzal.

“What we have now is a modern, deep water terminal capable of serving larger ships with the technology and processes to do it efficiently, and the ability to expand to meet the growth of trade in this region and the future needs of the industry.

No more queues and other positive signs

In operation since March, the terminal’s performance has been steadily improving and raising expectations among customers in Guatemala. For starters, there are no lines of vessels waiting at sea or lines of trucks at the gate.

In September, the terminal received 15 vessel calls, up from five when it began operations in March, and productivity reached 45 moves per hour, up from 25 in March. Last month, Maersk Line moved its entirevessel operation to this new Terminal.

“We handled almost 17,000 TEUs in September and saw more than 5,000 trucks pass through our gates with an average turnaround time of 23 minutes,” says Julian Llanos, Head of Operations at APM Terminals Quetzal. “In addition, we’ve had no injuries in the terminal since we took over operations, so we’re seeing the kind of performance and safety trends we and our customers want to see from our operation.”