Can West Africa ports rise to the challenge?

Assessing the current state of the West Africa’s port network, and what more needs to be done to truly put West Africa on the world maritime stage, will be discussed at the forthcoming TOC Market Briefing: West Africa, which will take place in Tenerife on 10-11 December.

Already, an impressive line-up of expert speakers and panellists have committed to participating in this hugely important event. New speaker confirmations include: Richard Anamoo, Director General, Ghana Ports & Harbours Authority; Ségolène Drogy, M.D. & Cluster Business Development, Central & West Africa, APM Terminals; Manuel E. Benítez, Deputy Administrator, Panama Canal Authority; and Younouss Soungui, Deputy General Manager, Cameroon National Shippers’ Council.

West Africa’s growing throughput
West Africa container trades are steadily being integrated into global networks, a result of the continent’s rapid economic growth. This in turn is fuelling investments in ports and terminals in a region that was once characterized by a dearth of genuinely efficient maritime facilities.

Most of the world’s major container carriers now have a significant presence on the West African coast, and in response they and global terminal operators are contributing much needed operational and technical know-how.

“I would say the African port sector is undergoing a real revolution,” states Laurent Thorrance, CEO of Axelcium and a speaker at the TOC Market Briefing: West Africa. Based in Paris and Dubai, Axelcium is a consultancy offering transaction and financial expertise on public private partnerships (PPPs) with great experience of infrastructure projects in the region. “Until recently private sector investment in ports was minimal, mainly equipment- and technology-related, but not in developing infrastructure as well. That has changed dramatically.”

Since 2008, a series of major terminal concessions have been agreed between government run port authorities and global terminal majors. In 2002, 90% of Africa’s container port throughput was handled by state-owned entities. Today, this scenario has changed dramatically, with a roughly equal split between state operators and global companies, with latter rapidly increasing their share.

Capacity crunch?
According to two other TOC speakers, there is something of a race against time to bring new capacity on stream in the face of the surge in container traffic projected over the next few years.

Markus F. Brinkmann, Line Manager, UASC Agencies – Nigeria, says container traffic is expanding so fast in West Africa that some terminals are already at risk of reaching their capacity. “However, there is solid indication that port capacity in the region will expand in time to handle the growing volumes,” he comments.

Tidiane Traore, Co-ordinating Consultant for the Sealink Project (West and Central African Coastal Shipping Link), adds that port congestion and feedering problems are still evident in regional ports and it is fair to say there are still issues to address.

“Some more efforts could be made to enable port authorities to meet the needs of carriers in terms of berthing on arrival, maximum draught, availability of specialized docks, loading time, administrative harassment, etc.,” he says.

But fortunately, today this seems to be better understood by government authorities and most of the region’s states have embarked on huge public works for quay construction and dredging. “They also worry now about the efficiency of port service providers,” Mr. Traore adds. “This process is on-going and we believe it will raise the efficiency of ports to an acceptable level in a short time frame.”

Hub status
An interesting question to be addressed at the TOC Market Briefing: West Africa is which ports might emerge as regional hubs.

Mr. Traore says that given current trends, the various facilities in Lagos port are more likely to be the busiest hub in West Africa. “The strength of the Nigerian economy, characterized by more and more industrialization and a large domestic market, supports the growth of ingoing and outgoing cargo flows,” he comments. “Of course, current problems like security, piracy, corruption and lack of comprehensive port development may downsize perspectives. However, it is clear that there is a political will to tackle these problems.”

But while improvements have been made, the job doesn’t stop there. At UASC Agencies – Nigeria, Markus Brinkmann accepts that productivity in most West African ports has increased as a result of more competition, improved procedures and better hinterland connections. “However, overall efficiency has to double if not quadruple in some parts to reach European productivity benchmarks,” he asserts.

TOC Market Briefing: West Africa comprises an executive-level conference, an exclusive tour of host port Puertos de Tenerife and networking functions for senior executives from across West Africa and Europe. The event runs on 10-11 December 2014 at The Auditorium, Tenerife and aims to enhance delegates’ understanding of business challenges facing container ports, shipping and logistics companies operating in the fast-growing West African market. This is TOC Events Worldwide’s first-ever event focusing on this region.
Source: TOC Events

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