Shandong BaoMa Fisheries Group, part of China’s Shandong BaoMa conglomerate, has received authorisation for a project valued between $200m and $250m to construct a duty free zone port, shipyard and a fish processing factory in Punta Yeguas, a cape about 5km west of the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo.

A Uruguayan website that covers Chinese News, reports that an 800m dock will be built, accommodating ships carrying up to 50,000 tonnes of cargo.

The fishing complex, to be built on a 28ha plot as a base for up to 500 Chinese trawlers, has aroused opposition from conservationists, who say the port threatens the South Atlantic marine ecosystem, which is already suffering the effects of over fishing.

Rodrigo García, founder of Oceanosanos (Healthy Oceans) NGO, told: “We ask ourselves what guarantees this project gives us. It is one of the places with the greatest biodiversity on the planet and it could be affected.”

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The Chinese fishing fleet will be targeting the region’s squid stock, which are also predated by sea lions and penguins, whose populations have been falling in recent years.

Gabriel Otero, the Mayor of Montevideo’s Municipality A, where the project will be situated, said the development would bring 300 construction jobs to an economically underdeveloped area. It is also expected to create 200 permanent jobs.

Shandong BaoMa, which is based in Shandong Province, south of Beijing, acquired the land for the Port from the Uruguay XXI, the Government Agency that promotes investment in the Country’s Economy.

Economic ties between Uruguay and China have been developing in recent years. In 2018, Uruguay became the first country in South American Regional bloc Mercosur to ink an agreement under the banner of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.