Photo by Augusto Diniz
Precast seawall-armor components are onshore, ready for in-water positioning. Each unit is GPS-tagged for precise placement.
Photo by Augusto Diniz
Basin St. Channel (dark blue in rendering) leads to turning basin and 90-sq-km onshore industrial complex. Marine terminal is designed to handle post-Panamax-sized bulk carriers.

 

Eike Batista, the richest man in Brazil, is building a superport. It's part of his master plan to surpass Mexican telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim as the world's richest man. Batista was ranked at No. 7 in March. Although the stock price of his company, EBX Group, was hit hard by a sell-off this summer, he maintains that his vision will become a reality within the decade.

His plan says that, within a decade, the sleepy fishing village of São João da Barra will be transformed into Açu Superport, the world's third-largest bulk port and the hub of an industrial complex designed to move 350 million tons of cargo annually. The port, under construction since 2007, lies about 350 miles up the coastline from Rio de Janeiro. It is conveniently placed to move iron ore from Anglo American's fields in Minas Gerais state and process crude-oil reserves from the rich Campos basin, 150 kilometers offshore.

Batista, 55, is a well-connected, flamboyant entrepreneur who is comfortable going all in. His father, Eliezer Batista da Silva, served two administrations as minister of mining and energy and also headed Companhia Vale do Rio Doce before it was privatized. Eike found gold—literally—in the Amazon basin in the 1980s. He parlayed that stake into a conglomerate, today known as the EBX Group, which has interests in mining, oil and shipping.

Over the past five years, Batista's companies have negotiated dozens of deals with state and federal governments in Brazil and multinational companies from China, Korea, Denmark and the U.S. The goal is to propel Açu into an industrial powerhouse.

Engineering and construction at the port is an exercise in large-scale maritime excavation and pier construction. Two dredging vessels have carved a 300- meter-wide, 18-m-deep channel that will be deepened to 26 m. An armored seawall encompasses a turning basin. The channel proceeds inshore, providing access to a 90-sq-kilometer industrial complex.

Tied to highways and railroad freight lines, the port is designed to relieve chronic congestion at other ports, such as Rio and Espirito Santo.

Batista promised earlier this year that his combined companies would earn more than $1 billion in 2012, but with declining commodity prices, they piled up big quarterly losses. For now, however, the gold miner says betting against him is a losing proposition.