‘We’re already looking at 2050’

14 December 2020
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COO Corné Hulst on participation in the port of Pecém.

Three hundred metres of additional quay length for the container terminal, a new access bridge to the breakwater and a major maintenance project on the existing access bridge. The first infrastructure projects for the port of Pecém since the Port of Rotterdam Authority became a shareholder have been completed. And although cargo handling in the Brazilian port has not escaped the effects of COVID-19 either, Corné Hulst, COO of the port of Pecém, is mainly looking ahead. ‘We are here for the long haul and are already looking towards where we want to be in the years to come’.

Port of Pecém
Port of Pecém

The port of Pecém is located in the state of Ceará in north east of Brazil. The Port of Rotterdam Authority has been a joint shareholder of the port since 2018. The artificial port was constructed in 2001 as an offshore breakwater with quays for containers and break bulk. It is connected to land by a mile-long access bridge. The access bridge is also connected to two shorter piers, where dry and liquid bulk are handled. The port also includes an industrial area that is developing rapidly. It has huge potential. Over the past decade, cargo handling has been growing by an average of 26% each year.

Doubling of cargo flows

‘The future of the port lies in major projects. For example, together with Vopak we are looking into constructing a tank terminal so we can import fuel through Pecém. We are working on a project aimed at attracting an oil refinery, and there are plans for a large bulk terminal to facilitate the export of mining products. These three projects alone could easily double the flow of cargo through the port of Pecém.

However, they will require a lot of patience a good business environment. For example, for the bulk terminal we are dependent on the federal government to organise the construction of a railway. The terminals and the oil refinery are going to need investments running into the hundreds of millions of euros. The shareholders of those companies need to be certain that their investments are worthwhile. This is why we are creating an environment in which you can invest with confidence’.


‘How? Through digitisation and automation, for example. Now’s the time to prepare for larger cargo volumes. As far as automation and digitisation are concerned, they are just about coping at the moment, but as things continue to grow, everything will need to be properly automated. The Port of Rotterdam Authority has products such as Navigate and PortXchange. We can use them to vastly improve the efficiency of the port. That’s what customers want.’

The environment and stakeholders

‘A lot needs to be done in the surrounding area too. Ceará is a relatively poor state - one of the poorer in Brazil. However, it is undergoing rapid development. Its economy is even growing about 1 to 2 percent above the national average, but it is still lagging behind in areas such as railways, ports, IT and the circular economy. If you want to keep on growing, then you have to take steps in that direction. This requires a great deal of effort and it isn’t only about money. We have drawn up an economic and socio-economic development roadmap for 2050. One thing we want to do is expand the industrial region. The Freezone, part of the industrial complex, offers tax breaks to companies wishing to set up businesses there. This will create economic growth with employment for the local population, although they will need the appropriate training. This is something we are already looking into.’

The environment

‘With growth, comes something that we take for granted in Europe, but which is not yet being sufficiently addressed here: environmental policy. We need to start thinking right away about what industrial growth will mean in terms of the environment and the surrounding area. This is something that the Port of Rotterdam is firmly insisting upon. If you want to operate internationally then you need to be sustainable in the long term.’

Organisation and clients

‘The organisation also needs to internationalise. One example is that there are only a few people who speak English well. There aren’t many potential international investors who speak Portuguese. That makes communications difficult. We are currently trying to run things through a central team.’


In March 2019, three employees from the Port of Rotterdam Authority started working in Pecém. ‘We are on the central management team. Everyone works well together. Occasionally, things don’t move as quickly as we’d like, but that shouldn’t be so surprising. Our cultures are different. It requires a certain adaptability on both sides. For example, establishing trust is essential. You have to ensure that there is mutual trust before you can change anything. The mentality among Rotterdammers is one of, “you have to grab the bull by the horns”. You have to find common ground.’

Short term

The fact that Pecém has been asked to supply the facilities for the construction of offshore wind farms is proof of the short-term successes that have been achieved alongside the completion of the infrastructure projects and the establishment of trust. ‘There will be quays, storage and people to build and maintain the wind farms off the Brazilian coast. The existing steel plant is also planning on expanding production from three to six million tonnes. Next year, the tendering process for a new LNG power plant will be launched and there is a new MSC shipping line that will run to the Middle East via Rotterdam. Furthermore, we recently received the MSC Schuba B. With a capacity of 11,000 TEU, it is the largest vessel we have received to date.’

Building blocks for the port of the future

To ensure the port is fully prepared for the future, seven building blocks are needed: organisation and customers, funding, infrastructure, commitment to the environment and stakeholders, energy, digital transition and innovation. Would you like to know more? Download the free whitepaper.

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