* Singapore’s PSA International signs management contract
* Container terminal at Mariel Port to be Cuba’s largest
* 2014 opening to coincide with Panama Canal upgrade
By Marc Frank
HAVANA, July 6 (Reuters) - Singaporean port operator PSA International Pte. Ltd. has quietly signed on to manage a container terminal under construction at the Cuban port of Mariel, sources close to the project said this week.
The terminal is part of a larger scheme to develop Mariel Bay, 28 miles (45 km) west of Havana, into the Caribbean country’s most important cargo hub and center of light manufacture.
PSA International won a bid to manage the terminal last year and had been in negotiations ever since with Mariel developer Zona de Desarrollo Integral de Mariel, a subsidiary of the military owned Almacenes Universal S.A.
The sources said the agreement was to manage the port and did not involve any investment by the company.
Mariel Bay is one of Cuba’s finest along the northern coast and the port is destined to replace Havana, the country’s main port, over the coming years.
No further details of the deal were available, but the sources said PSA International would now actively participate in planning the terminal, which is scheduled to open by 2014 when larger vessels will begin traversing the Panama Canal, now being expanded.
The Singapore company operates numerous ports around the world, including in Panama and Argentina.
The Mariel terminal, which will have an initial 700 meters (765 yards) of berth, is ideally situated to handle U.S. cargo if the American trade embargo is eventually lifted, and will receive U.S. food exports already flowing into the country under a 2000 amendment to sanctions.
Plans through 2022 call for Mariel to house logistics facilities for offshore oil exploration and development, the container terminal, general cargo and bulk foods facilities and a Special Economic Development Zone for light manufacturing and storage, the sources said.
Brazil has pledged $800 million so far to finance construction of infrastructure and port facilities already under way in conjunction with the Odebrecht group, Brazil’s largest construction and engineering firm.
Brazilian Presidential Adviser Marco Aurelio Garcia toured Mariel and met with Cuban President Raul Castro earlier this year, followed in June by former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Garcia said $400 million in financing had already been disbursed and another $200 million of the promised $800 million approved. He said an additional loan was under consideration.
Mariel Port will handle vessels with up to a 15 meter (49 feet) draft, compared with 11 meters (36 feet) at Havana Bay due to a tunnel under the channel leading into the Cuban capital’s port.
The terminal will have an annual capacity of 850,000 to 1 million containers, compared with Havana’s 350,000.
Plans call for shutting down all port operations and an oil refinery at Havana Bay, which, with its excellent real estate overlooking the water, is to become a recreation area.
Editing by Jeff Franks and Doina Chiacu