The Port of Big Creek is a privately-owned facility situated in the Big Creek community in Southern Belize. The driving forces behind the port are prominent business individuals, including Michael Duncker, Antonio Zabaneh, and Zaid Flores, who bring a wealth of experience and expertise from their involvement in a diverse range of industries, including shrimp production, banana cultivation, citrus farming, port operations, ship agency services, and distribution of fertilizer and agrochemicals.
The Port of Big Creek, a subsidiary of the Big Creek Group, has a close relationship with Belize’s banana industry. Throughout its history, the Port has played a vital role in the development of both the Port and the Big Creek Group. In the early 1980s, the banana industry, which was previously owned by the government and managed by foreign companies, was facing the threat of collapse. The government of Belize recognized the significance of the industry, both in terms of employment opportunities and foreign currency generation, and sought to prevent its decline. With the UK providing preferential market access to Belize’s bananas due to the country’s former colonial ties, efforts were made to improve the efficiency and quality of the shipping process. However, the small production size and the manual loading of barges for transshipment to the UK via Guatemala were cost-ineffective and resulted in significant quality issues.
In the late 1980s, the then Chairman of Fyffes, a company owned by Irish interests, Mr. John Ellis, a visionary leader and ardent supporter of the Belizean banana industry, collaborated with Craig Griffith, a former investment banker, and sought the assistance of the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC), Barclays Bank International, and Fyffes to secure funding for the construction of the Port of Big Creek. This significant investment, in conjunction with support from the Government of Belize and other multilateral organizations, helped spur the growth of the banana industry in Belize, which had previously been struggling with limited acreage and manual operations. Today, the once fragile industry has expanded to 7,000 acres, and the manual operations have been transformed into a full deep-water port terminal facility, capable of handling 5-6 million boxes of bananas annually.
In the late 1990’s, market preferences being challenged by the United States and other Latin American banana producing countries (through the World Trade Organization), brought about uncertainties in the industry that made most of the founding members of the Port of Big Creek, including Fyffes, divest of its shareholdings in the Port. At this point Michael Duncker, Antonio Zabaneh and Zaid Flores saw the vision, grasped it, and made it their own. The Company is now owned largely by these three individuals in equal proportions.
In 2007, the Big Creek Group and the Port of Big Creek embarked on a new venture with the importation, storage, and distribution of fuel from Venezuela as part of the Petro Caribe Initiative. This endeavor required the construction of a state-of-the-art 60,000-barrel tank farm facility within the Port’s premises. The new facility enabled the Port to provide a more comprehensive range of services to its customers, further contributing to the growth and advancement of Belize’s economy.
In 2008, a significant milestone was reached with the signing of an agreement between Belize Natural Energy and the Port of Big Creek for the storage and export of crude oil. This marked a turning point in the country’s history and further solidified the Port of Big Creek’s position as a leader in the logistics network. The agreement demonstrated the Port’s ongoing commitment to development and improvement, positioning it as a key player in the growth and advancement of Belize’s economy..
In 2011, the Port of Big Creek embarked on a multi-million-dollar expansion project to keep pace with growing demand and increase its capacity. Over a three-year period, the Port added a third berth, underwent in-house dredging of its channel, constructed modern offices, and acquired essential equipment such as tugs, barges, buoys, and navigational lights. These improvements paved the way for the creation of the Big Creek Group brand, the publication of its first annual calendar, and the establishment of its Safety Health and Environment, and Security Department. This transformative period marked the evolution of the Port, as it adopted a new work ethic, vision, mission, and energy, positioning itself as a leader in the logistics network and driving economic growth in Belize.
In September 2015, the Port of Big Creek made history with the signing of a landmark agreement for the storage and export of raw sugar. This agreement was reached with Santander, a newcomer in the sugar industry in Belize, further diversifying the Port’s offerings and expanding its reach in the logistics network. This strategic partnership represents the Port’s commitment to fostering growth and innovation in the industries it serves, and solidifies its position as a key player in the country’s economic development.
In November 2018, the Big Creek Group made a bold and strategic multi-million-dollar investment to complete the dredging of the Port’s entrance channel and turning basin. This initiative was aimed at enabling the berthing of banana vessels that were previously serviced three kilometers away at anchorage, significantly improving the efficiency of the Port’s operations. Despite the prohibitive cost and lack of a feasible financial model, the Directors and Shareholders of the Group recognized the importance of this decision for the country and the future of the Port, and proceeded with the dredging project. This decision serves as a prime example of strategic decision-making and may one day be studied as a case in business and management education.
Additionally, November 2018 marked another historic milestone for the Port of Big Creek, as an agreement was signed with the National Gas Company (Belize) Limited for the storage and importation of liquid petroleum gas through the port facilities. This agreement further strengthens the Port’s position as a versatile and dynamic hub for various industries in Belize.
In February 2021, the Port of Big Creek reached another significant milestone with the storage and export of raw sugar through its facilities. This was made possible through the partnership with ASR/BSI, the country’s renowned and historic sugar production powerhouse. This achievement reinforces the Port’s commitment to expanding its offerings and capabilities to support the needs of diverse industries in Belize.
The Port of Big Creek has established itself as a top-tier port in Belize, meeting and exceeding international security standards with its ISPS certification. Boasting a 11-meter deep entrance channel and 4,205 meters of fully buoyed and lighted channel, as well as 515 meters of berth space, the port provides ample facilities for cargo handling. The Big Creek Group, employing over 250 individuals, drives economic growth and development in Southern Belize. With a current footprint of 100 acres and ample room for expansion, the Port is committed to maximizing cost-saving opportunities through its strategic geographic location and providing a world-class import and export alternative.
The Port envisions becoming a prominent, sustainable, and innovative hub in the region, continuously improving the national economy and enhancing the living and environmental conditions in Belize. As the quote by Mike Averbuj suggests, making a decision is more important than endlessly searching for the perfect one, and the Port of Big Creek is poised to seize the opportunity for growth and success.