Agência para o Investimento e Comércio Externo de Portugal


Unbeknown to holidaymakers frolicking on the beach at Sines, high-speed submarine optical cables lie deep off this Portuguese coast, forming an umbilical cord of connectivity and data between Europe and South America.

“The port provides a safe landing spot for mooring in a protected area for these telecommunication cables,” said Ms Maria Costa, business director of AICEP Global Parques, which runs ZILS, the largest industrial and logistics zone on the Iberian Peninsula and adjacent to the port of Sines.


The EllaLink, launched in June 2021, runs 6,000km “in a straight line” from Sines to Fortaleza in north-eastern Brazil.


Sun, sea and submarine cables


The coastline from the tip of the Troia Peninsula to Sines is, at 65km, one of the longest beaches in the world.


And this 100Tbps (terabits per second) boost in connectivity, part of the €6 trillion (S$8.7 trillion) Sines Tech innovation and data centre hub, makes Portugal one of the largest data centres in Southern Europe.


That this historic fishing town of just 14,000 residents, best known as the birthplace of legendary explorer Vasco da Gama and for its port, Sines, is also the landing point for terabytes of digital data certainly turns the traditional idea of a maritime port on its head.


The port itself has spearheaded an ambitious venture called Nexus – a consortium of 35 international and local partners, including PSA Sines, Deloitte, Siemens and Nokia.


“The aim is to develop solutions to achieve both a green and a digital transition agenda,” Portugal’s Minister of Infrastructure, Dr Joao Galamba, told The Straits Times during Singapore Maritime Week in April. “That’s why we have members who represent the entire value chain – port and rail operators, logistics and tech companies, and universities.”


The green agenda is big in Portugal, which now obtains 60 per cent of its electricity from renewables, with a goal to raise this to 80 per cent by 2025.


Creating green maritime corridors


Together with Spain and France, Portugal signed an agreement for the world’s first Green Energy Corridor (GEC) for shipping in October 2022, connecting the Iberian Peninsula with the rest of Europe.


Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa said then that together, they will set up a gas pipeline in the GEC to transport “green hydrogen” and other renewable gases.


The United Nations’ regulatory body for shipping, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), has called for a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, compared with 2008 levels, to bring the industry in line with the Paris climate agreement.


Green hydrogen has emerged as the leading low-carbon fuel alternative in the maritime sector. It is obtained by electrolysis of water in a process powered entirely by renewable energy.


“Electricity from burning fossil fuels increases greenhouse gases, so we consider green hydrogen production through electrolysis to be a competitive advantage,” said Dr Galamba.


The country has an ambitious national energy and climate road map until 2030 and wants to be carbon-neutral by 2050.

The incumbent port operator since 2004, PSA International holds the concession to operate the container terminal at Sines until 2049.

To achieve these goals, Portugal decommissioned its last two coal-fired power plants in 2021, nine years ahead of schedule, making it the fourth country in Europe to go coal-free. The Sines plant will be turned into a green hydrogen production facility by 2025. This will be done by a consortium of 13 entities including Portugal’s largest power producer, EDP, green energy companies, academia and public-private partners, which has been awarded a €30 million European Union Horizon 2020 research and innovation grant.


When ready, the plant will help power the port, which currently has five terminals handling liquified natural gas, petrochemicals, liquid bulk, dry bulk and container shipping – the last managed since 2004 by Singapore’s port operator, PSA International.

PSA anchors in Portugal


“It’s wonderful that PSA (International) and the Port of Sines have an extended collaboration agreement until 2027,” said Portugal’s Minister of the Economy and Maritime Affairs, Mr Antonio Costa Silva, in his Lisbon meeting with a visiting delegation of media professionals from the Singapore Press Club in April.


Mr Silva was referring to the €392.5 million third phase of expansion of the container terminal, which would raise handling capacity from the current 2.3 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units) to 4.1 million TEU once completed. It would include extending the dock front from the existing 1,150m to 1,750m to allow for the concurrent mooring of four mega container ships – each as long as 400m – plus 100 pieces of new equipment such as cranes and prime movers.


“This equipment is PSA Sines’ first venture into automated yard equipment,” said the Singaporean lead and project director at PSA Sines, Mr Balachandran Krishnamurthi, to the visiting Singapore delegation, who toured the 40ha yard. It will grow to over 60ha by 2027. Seventy per cent of yard equipment already runs on electricity and its buildings are solar-powered. Diesel is being phased out.


He added that the site now employs 1,400 people and plans to hire 750 more. This would make PSA Sines one of the largest employers in the region. PSA International holds the concession to run the container terminal till 2049.


At Sines, three-quarters of the container cargo is moved out of the port by sea or via container trains that ply between Portugal and destinations in neighbouring Spain. A new railway is being constructed to shave 160km off the journey. All trains run on renewable power, which makes rail transport cleaner and more energy efficient than road.


Green corridors catch on
The Sines plant, originally scheduled for closure in 2030, was one of the last two coal-powered facilities retired in 2021.

PSA Sines in Europe is part of the world’s first GEC for shipping, and it is a matter of time before other similar initiatives will emerge globally. In April 2023, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) signed a memorandum of understanding with the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to set up a green and digital shipping corridor between Singapore and the San Pedro Bay Port Complex, where the two US ports are located next to each other. The goal: to support the transition to low- and zero-emission fuels in ships calling at these megaports. 


According to MPA, the three ports will support the supply and adoption of these fuels and explore the necessary infrastructure and regulations for bunkering through pilot projects, identify digital shipping solutions and develop standards and best practices for green ports and the bunkering of alternative marine fuels.


Back home in Singapore, MPA and PSA also recently reaffirmed a 12-year partnership to support research and development to boost the productivity and sustainability of port operations. As part of the deal, which was first inked in 2011, MPA and PSA will commit $12 million each to support transformative R&D projects in automation, robotics, digital solutions and sustainability.


A vision for the world’s first green maritime corridor


Noting such developments globally, Mr Costa told the visiting Singapore Press Club delegation that Portugal is keen to partner with Singapore to boost the decarbonisation and digitalisation of the maritime sector and build a truly global green maritime corridor.


“We would like, from Singapore, and our friends across the world – from Brazil to Portugal to North Africa to Asia to Singapore – to have this horizontal axis… if we can combine the networks and change current turbulent relations (between some countries), we would have more prosperity in the world,” said Mr Costa.


In The Straits Times