Using an adverse situation to fuel progress

Using an adverse situation to fuel progress

José Luis Cacho, President, Ports of Sines and the Algarve Authority, suggests that the port sector is, apart from a pillar of resilience, a potential driving force for the economy


During the last two months we have seen the world on high alert and governments taking all manner of actions to stop the pandemic. Portugal, as a nation, rose to the occasion and received global praise for its handling of the coronavirus crisis, especially considering how hard its neighbour, Spain, was hit. What, in your opinion, were the key elements that allowed for Portugal to tackle this crisis so effectively?

I believe that it was all a matter of being quick to respond to the pandemic crisis. The Portuguese Government was very efficient in aligning all public entities and authorities involved, as well as in articulating the public and private sectors to responding in a quick and efficient way to the pandemic.


Could you provide us with an overview of the port logistics and maritime sector in Portugal, as they relate to great strategic and commercial importance for the country?

Portugal benefits from a geo-strategic location within the cross of the main maritime routes North-South and East-West, thus allowing the country to be the hub par excellence connecting the Atlantic and the Mediterranean traffic, the North of Europe and Africa. In this scope, Sines plays a key role, being the unique deep-water port in the country, offering capacity for the handling of the biggest vessels operating nowadays, in all types of cargo.


The Port of Sines is the country’s leading port in terms of total throughput, handling 50 percent of Portugal’s total volumes of cargo, while in containerised cargo particularly, Sines’ share goes up to 56 percent. What are the short and mid-term strategic objectives of APS to ensure that the maritime sector is in a position to support the economic recovery?

Despite the pandemic crisis, the Port of Sines has been operating round-the-clock, at 100 percent. Sines is Portugal’s leading port in terms of cargo handling, being the main supplier in energetic products, not only crude and derivatives but also in LNG, while containerized cargo represents around 52 percent of the country’s total throughput. In order to comply with the challenges of the decarbonisation, we have been committed to find new businesses for the Dry Bulks Terminal, due to the cease on the handling of coal. We have been focused in the agro-business, which might be an option.


Besides being the country’s leading supplier for energetic products, Sines also offers a strategic potential for the development of both the LNG and Hydrogen renewable markets. The only LNG Terminal in the country is located at the Port of Sines, being responsible for nearly 90 percent of Portugal’s needs. What is your view on the role decarbonisation and digitalisation play in the port’s infrastructure? 

Ports are increasingly complex ‘entities’; some of them are important energy, industrial and ‘blue economy’ clusters, along with their core activity of handling passengers and cargo, while acting as a connecting agent between the sea and the hinterland. Moreover, the ‘transformation’ of ports into true hubs of innovation and digitalization is growing. In addition, we must not forget the key role of Port Communities in solving various constraints, whether they are bottlenecks in the hinterland, social or environmental issues.

The Port of Sines has been leading the way towards technological development in the Portuguese Port Sector. In 2008, Sines headed the development of the JUP – Port Single Window, which has paid a tremendous contribution to ports’ efficiency. Portuguese ports are paperless, offering smooth, quick, safe and efficient operations. In 2013, the Port of Sines started to implement the platform that has led to what is the JUL Logistic Single Window nowadays.

Being a strategic national project, the JUL broadens the scope of the JUP along the logistic chain, comprising land means of transport, thus allowing all the players to interact. Today, the port goes far beyond its terminals and quays, spreading its influence along the hinterland and the foreland. Digitalization and innovation are more and more key competitiveness factors, whereas operational efficiency is no longer enough.

Today, the ever more globalized market demands us to be quicker, smoother, smarter; all the logistic chain must be agile and constraints free; today’s markets demand instant, efficient and innovative responses. It is up to us to be creative, re-invent solutions and develop the skills to provide a proper, efficient, sustainable and competitive response.

In what concerns decarbonisation, Sines is, since the beginning of its history, an energetic port, with crude and coal representing more than 60 percent of the total cargo handled. Today, these volumes have been decreasing and we are working on new business opportunities for these terminals.


We have read about the expansion of the Sines Port with double digit growth as its target, the construction of the Vasco da Gama container terminal and the increased capacity at the LNG terminal. All of this placed upon the fact that Portugal will also play a role in the Belt and Road Initiative. As it stands, what are Portugal’s most attractive Investment opportunities linked to maritime and transport infrastructure?

Regarding new investment opportunities we must also enhance the tremendous advantage of being jointly located to an Industrial and Logistic Area (ZILS) with wide business opportunities able to settle in 2.200 available hectare. Port and ZILS have been engaged in the promotion of this privileged location, excellently served by road and rail connections, and benefiting from a strategic location.


The Port of Sines stands out from the rest of the economy with a growth of 21.6 percent in the fourth month of the year, mitigating global losses and confirming that it is on the path of recovery. How has APS adapted its operations to face the current global economic situation?

I think it was natural to adapt ourselves, because all Port Community and regional authorities have been closely working together, under the orientations of the Health Authority, thriving to keep the port fully operational. We worked, as usual, as a team; that is the most important part for us.


From the perspective of humanity, personally and for the institution you represent, what have been some of the most crucial lessons you’ve obtained from this COVID-19 pandemic?  

Even though we have been experiencing devastating times, we must always try to think positive, to learn from adversity and try to find new business opportunities and perspectives. I guess that this pandemic has opened our eyes to the need to grow greener, more efficient and innovative – of course, in digitalization and automation; the future is around the corner and we must be ready for it.