US firm says Mexican authorities illegally seized its port terminal

By Sarah Morland

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -U.S. construction materials firm Vulcan Materials Co said on Monday that Mexican security forces illegally took possession last week of its port terminal in southern Mexico, as an extended legal battle over its nearby limestone mining activities plays out.

The incident took place last Tuesday night at the terminal in the popular tourist hub of Playa del Carmen, and follows a five-year fight with the government over Vulcan’s concessions punctuated by sharp criticism from the country’s president last year.

Vulcan, which markets crushed stone as well as asphalt and ready-mixed concrete, said in a statement on Sunday that workers from Mexican cement company Cemex accompanied the security forces last week as part of the takeover of their port terminal.

“We are shocked in Cemex and in the Mexican government entities that supported this reckless and reprehensible armed seizure of our private property,” Vulcan said in the statement.

Vulcan declined to say how last week’s action was illegal or who currently controls the terminal.

The company also contends that a decision by the government last year to shut down its operations was illegal.

Cemex on Monday defended its actions last week, saying they were backed by a local court and a recent order from state prosecutors.

Cemex in a statement referred to its contract with a local Vulcan unit dating back two decades which it said allows it to use the terminal.

The company added that an order from prosecutors granted it access to the port terminal premises, and that on March 14 authorities enforced it. This, Cemex said, followed what the company described as months of failed negotiations with the Vulcan unit.

Mexico’s security ministry did not reply to a request for comment.

The Alabama-based firm has been unable to quarry and ship construction materials since the Mexican government shut down its operations last May over concerns of harmful impacts of underwater limestone mining on the local environment and water table.

At the time, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador criticized the impacts as an “ecological catastrophe.”

Video footage shared on Fox News, which Vulcan confirmed, showed around a dozen security officers entering the site in police trucks last week, as well as a Cemex-branded pickup truck.

(Reporting by Sarah Morland in Mexico CityAdditional reporting by Diego Ore in Mexico CityEditing by David Alire Garcia and Matthew Lewis)