Sans Souci Ports S.A – Modern Haven in the Caribbean

Puerto Santo Domingo, a private, multi-purpose seaport boasting unique characteristics, is set to further enhance its Caribbean presence by pursuing continuous improvement.

Sans Souci Ports S.A., a wholly private entity established 15 years ago, received the concession to operate the Port of Santo Domingo, located at the mouth of the marine entrance to the City of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, as part of a larger project to revitalise the general area. The aim was to integrate the port area and Santo Domingo’s Colonial City to create an attractive destination for cruise, yacht and high-end tourism.

“The scope of the project was significantly more ambitious than simply revitalising the port, and its focus has changed over time. Since the original concession came into force, some US$ 50 million has been invested in order to convert the Port of Santo Domingo into what it is today – a truly multi-purpose port that handles both passengers and cargos, with a clear ro-ro focus,” explains Executive Director Gabriel Rodriguez.

Currently, The Port of Santo Domingo is the Dominican Republic’s leading multipurpose port. With more than 1,700 linear meters of berthing area, three passengers and cargo handling terminals and the capacity to warehouse more than 7,000 CEUs, the port serves cruise, general cargo, PCC, ferry and other ro-ro vessels, developing tailored solutions that help shipping lines handle more than 50% of vehicles imported to the country and nearly 80% of the trade with Puerto Rico.

Unique capability

The company has built a very strong presence in a few niches and, although the smallest of the country’s three ports handling large-volume cargo, handles 80% of the trade between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Santo Domingo is also the principal port for handling vehicle cargo for the Dominican Republic and is the only port in the country that does vehicle transhipment.

“About two years ago, which coincided with my joining the team, we started to build a large bulk cargo capability at the port, and this has been successful: in 2019 we handled half a million tonnes of bulk cargo and want to gradually build that volume up to a million tonnes and more,” says Mr Rodriguez.

Within the tourism business, the company operates two ferry and cruise terminals. Pre-Covid-19, the port handled about 100,000 passengers a year coming from Puerto Rico, and – with the Sans Souci terminal being the largest and most modern cruise terminal in the whole of the Caribbean – thousands of cruise passengers. The terminal also operates as a convention centre for the City of Santo Domingo.

Due to the diverse nature of its infrastructure, numerous commercial activities can take place concurrently, says Gabriel Rodriguez. “We operate as a unique entity that needs to adapt quickly and efficiently to a myriad of operations, from moving steel billets one day, to celebrating a fashion show in the same place the next. Speed, versatility and adaptability to very different circumstances are the elements that really characterise us.”

Adaptability is second nature to Mr Rodriguez himself. With a background in banking, management consulting and mining, operating a port was a new venture for him. “I came to Sans Souci after seven years in the mining sector, a very different industry to port management,” he admits. “Still, there are some surprising similarities. Both are very capital-intensive businesses, both must operate very efficiently, serving international clients, and both have a strong focus on safety and security, as well as compliance with stringent environmental management practices. So, I could utilise a lot of my experience and was also lucky to find a team that was both very strong and very used to adapting.”

The way forward

Although the major investment in the revitalisation was made during the first five years of the project, the modernisation is far from complete. Last year, the company revamped Berth 10 which has a fuel terminal, and in partnership with the owner of the fuel terminal, it is expected that the company will take a place in the fuel market locally.

As the volume of cargo grows, more investment is spent on further improving the infrastructure to better suit the business. “At the moment, we spend around US$ 750,000 each year in improving the port but in the medium term we plan to expand the Sans Souci Terminal so that it can accommodate larger ships, increasing the transhipment capability,” says Mr Rodriguez.

“In the medium term, we aim to grow all of our business lines. In terms of the container business, this can be achieved by increasing connectivity with other parts of the world, be it Europe, China or Japan. We are also confident that we can re-position the Port of Santo Domingo as a destination of choice for cruise guests.”

These are ambitious plans after the difficult year of 2020, with its significant hit to sales and tourism falling to zero. Still, the management remains optimistic. “We quickly focused on understanding how the pandemic will impact us and how to keep our people safe. We have implemented 72 different measures that allowed us to prevent transmission within our facilities, and we were able to avoid any furloughs or downsizing by re-arranging the work. We are very proud of how our people handled this difficult year and happy to say that we managed to protect all their jobs.”

Although the immediate future holds a high degree of uncertainty, the company is set to further improve the efficiency and quality of its services, says Mr Rodriguez. “We firmly believe that we can learn to further improve, making sure we have the best alliances to do things the best they can be done. To this end, we have partnered with Fast Terminal, a well-established operator in the US, Central and South Americas, to help us to develop those unique capabilities that allow us to serve clients better but also to enhance our visibility.”

He affirms that significant investments are planned in further facility expansion as well as in human resources, in line with the company’s mission. “We are clear that we are never going to be the largest port in the Dominican Republic, but we want to be the best,” he concludes.

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