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July 8, 2013

Retractable Covers for Vessels being tested at Port of Paranagua

One of the basic shortfalls at the Port of Paranagua in southern Brazil has been the inability to load grain during times of wet weather. Any time there is a threat of rainfall, loading operations must be suspended until the threat passes. During the first six months of 2013, loading operations were suspended at the port due to wet weather for a total of 51 days or 28% of the time.

According to the Superintend of Ports of Parana, Luis Henrique Dividino, the Port of Paranagua will start a series of tests to evaluate the feasibility of new retractable covers that have been under development for the past 14 months. If these tests prove successful, the Port of Paranagua will be the first port in Brazil able to continue loading grain during times of wet weather.

The Port of Paranagua is Brazil's main port for the export of soybeans, soybean meal, and corn and if the grain or meal gets wet during loading operations, the grain may start to ferment during transit resulting in the entire shipment being rejected at the vessel's destination. To avoid that possibility, the holds of the ships are closed any time there is a threat of rainfall.

The covers have been designed to be utilized only during times of light rainfall and they will not be deployed during periods of heavy rainfall or high winds out of concern for worker safety. The tests will be conducted at berths at the Public Corridor, and if successful, they could be installed at the private berths at the port as well.

These covers have the potential to greatly increase the port's capacity without the need for the construction of additional berths. The Brazilian government and the State of Parana have long-range plans to more than double the capacity of the port by constructing a "T" shaped pier hundreds of meters out into the harbor, but completion of such a large project is still many years away. In the meantime, these retractable covers could reduce the down-time due to rainfall and improve the efficiency of the port.

In spite of efforts to improve efficiency, one of the underlying deficiencies at the Port of Paranagua is the understaffing of federal employees that are required to inspect the grain shipments and authorize their departure from the port.

In order to improve port operations, the federal government launched its "Porto 24" program two months ago at eight ports throughout the country with the goal of having the ports in full operations for 24 hour a day. The program has had little impact at the Port of Paranagua due to the lack of federal inspectors needed to staff their operations 24 hours per day. The vast majority of their inspections are still done during the daytime hours with only a single inspector on duty at night.

The Ministry of Agriculture currently has 19 employees working at the Port of Paranagua - 5 veterinarians, 11 agronomists, and 3 administrative personnel. According to the head of the Agricultural inspection service, the number of federal employees at the port has not increased in 20 years despite a huge increase in grain shipments. He maintains that his workforce is already understaffed during the daytime hours and that it would be impossible to extend inspections to 24 hours per day without jeopardizing their daytime activities. Ideally, he feels they should add 5 more veterinarians, 4 more agronomists, and 8 more administrative personnel to handle the 500 operations per day that currently occur.