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René Puche

Port of Barranquilla

My vision for a world-class gateway port

René Puche, who has been at the helm at the Port of Barranquilla for over three years, tells ‘Caribbean Maritime’ about his plans and ambitions for the major Colombian port.

As the largest cargo handling complex on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, the multipurpose sea and river port of Barranquilla has been undergoing a major program of modernization and logistical expansion in order to take full advantage of its gateway position. 

René Puche has been chief executive of Sociedad Portuaria Regional de Barranquilla S.A. since February 2013.

René Puche

With over 20 years’ experience in the logistics business in Europe and West Africa behind him, Mr Puche has brought his specialist knowledge to bear on the challenge of transforming the Port of Barranquilla into a world-class logistics platform.

Q. What are the key strengths and advantages of the Port of Barranquilla?

A. With a prime location on the banks of the Magdalena River and 22 km from its mouth at the Caribbean Sea, we open the door to a variety of opportunities and advantages. Our 94 hectare area and our multipurpose port vocation reinforce the privileges enjoyed by each of our customers.

Also, Barranquilla is known for five basic characteristics:

  • Capacity to produce export cargo
  • Authorities involved with the development of city´s infrastructure
  • Integration between public and private sectors
  • Guilds committed to the growth and development of the city
  • Natural platform for foreign trade agreements (FTAs)
  • High demand for imported goods.

Q. What major improvements and expansions have been made to the port during your presidency and what is your vision for the Port of Barranquilla?

A. There has been a positive development in the country in terms of ports infrastructure specially during the last 10 years. That is the reason why in 2014 we decided to review our vision and short-term objectives.

In order to stay ahead of the market we are focusing on becoming a logistics platform that, from Barranquilla, connects Colombia to the world.

To achieve such a vision, we developed a three-year (2015-2017) business and investment plan focused on four strategic lines: Security, Technology, Infrastructure and Equipment.

During that exercise, 117 projects were identified and 64 were accomplished during 2015 among which we should highlight the construction of the first and only cold storage and distribution center inside a port in Colombia, allowing us to guarantee temperature control along the supply chain. Among its key features are:

  • 3,200 square meter warehousing and distribution center
  • 2,640 pallet positions
  • 48 containers per day
  • 10 loading / discharging bays.

Q. What investments have you made in port security?

A. Proper cargo management and safety are among our priorities. We decided to improve our security system by installing:

- Security fence around the six hectare container yard.

- 9 x 38 meter high light towers

- 38 high definition cameras

- ID-number marking for cargo handling equipment

- GPS devices on all reach stackers

- Additional cameras for increased CCTV coverage.

With the implementation of this project, our port has one of the most advanced security systems in Colombia.

Q. What is your plan for the port and its operations over the next few years?

A. In 2016 we will invest about US$ 10 million in strengthening our infrastructure and in operational improvements. Our major projects are:

  • Eco-hopper for handling clinker
  • Implementation of a non-intrusive inspection system (scanners)
  • Improvement of weighbridges and shore scales
  • Implementation of a booking system for trucks carrying general and bulk cargo
  • Complementary investments in road infrastructure.

Q. Are there any problems or weaknesses in the present-day operation of the Port of Barranquilla that you are striving to overcome?

A. Because we are a river port and the Magdalena is a very complex river, keeping the depth of the access channel is always a challenge, especially during the dry season. Fortunately, the national and local government included Barranquilla as part of the national dredging plan in order to safeguard our long-term competitiveness. This project includes bringing the channel to a depth of 15.0 meters by 300 meters wide. This will allow all terminals to receive bigger vessels.

Q. Will the opening of the expanded Panama Canal have a big impact on business at the Port of Barranquilla?

A. Due to our location it will not make a great impact on our business. However, we are getting ready to receive bigger vessels as mentioned above.

Career path

René Puche has a Business Administration degree and MBA from the University of Texas. During his professional career, Mr Puche has worked for Yara International in different positions, starting in 1993 as commercial and logistics director in Colombia. In 2001 he was transferred to Yara Belgium to take over as supply chain director in charge of fertilizer sourcing for the Global Yara network.

In 2007 Mr Puche was put in charge of Yara’s operation in Ghana overseeing West African markets. After three years in Ghana he was transferred to Yara France as supply and trade director for Africa and Latin America based in Paris. A few months later, the role was transferred to Yara Switzerland in Geneva where he stayed until December 2011.

In 2012 René joined Abocol, a multinational fertilizer company based in Colombia, where he took over as supply and logistics vice president. He became chief executive of the Port of Barranquilla in February 2013.