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Mexico: Ports and Shipping
Country Study > Chapter 3 > The Economy > Transportation and Communications > Ports and Shipping


Mexico has some 10,000 kilometers of coastline but few navigable rivers and no good natural harbors. The country's 2,900 kilometers of navigable rivers and coastal canals play only a minor role in the transportation system. In the early 1990s, Mexico's seventy-five maritime ports and nine river ports handled 65 percent of imports and 70 percent of nonpetroleum exports. The flow of freight through Mexican ports exceeded 163 million tons of cargo in 1990, representing 31 percent of total freight carried by all modes. The five largest ports -- Tampico, Veracruz, Guaymas, Mazatlán, and Manzanillo -- handled 80 percent of Mexico's ocean freight.

Veracruz is an important port for general cargo, especially goods headed to and from Mexico City. The port of Tampico primarily handles petroleum and petroleum products. Other important seaports include Coatzacoalcos on the Gulf of Mexico coast and Acapulco on the Pacific. Two new Pacific ports -- Pichilingue and Topolobampo -- were built in the early 1990s, and another was built on the Gulf of Mexico coast at Progreso, in the state of Yucatán. Between 1989 and 1994, some US$700 million was spent on port development, more than half of that amount provided by the private sector.

Mexico's system of state-owned ports is administered by Mexican Ports (Puertos Mexicanos -- PM), a decentralized government agency established in 1989 to oversee the rationalization and streamlining of port operations. To increase the quality of service in the shipping sector and thereby enhance Mexico's export performance, the government announced in 1992 that it would sell management concessions for nine ports -- including Acapulco, Lázaro Cárdenas, and Manzanillo -- to private buyers. In 1994 ownership of the ports of Altamira, Acapulco, Guaymas, and Tampico passed to the private sector. Mexico expected to complete construction by 1996 of a 437-kilometer coastal canal between Matamoros and Tampico, intended to connect with the United States Intracoastal Waterway system through the Río Bravo del Norte (Rio Grande).

In 1994 the Mexican merchant marine consisted of fifty-eight vessels of more than 1,000 gross registered tons, including thirty-two oil tankers owned and operated by Pemex. The state-owned Maritime Transport of Mexico (Transporte Marítimo de México) operated most of the other ships. Maritime freight is about evenly distributed between coastal and ocean shipping, whereas most seaborne passenger travel is coastal.

Last Updated: June 1996

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mexico was first published in 1996. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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Section 127 of 213


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