West African ports could face even greater congestion pressures from the cascading of larger container vessels into the region’s trades, delegates were told at a two-day container supply chain conference, TOC Market Briefing: West Africa, which took place on the largest of the Canary Islands, Tenerife, in December last year.
Independent maritime advisory firm Drewry senior adviser Michel Donner told attendees at the conference that mega-container ships have implications for all ports, not just those on the Asia-Europe route. As many as 61 ships of between 8 000 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) and 11 000 TEU are likely to be cascaded into other trades in the next 15 months, so the market is speculating as to where these are likely to go.
Donner believed that, as soon as two or three West African ports are able to handle larger vessels, more will “swarm to the region”, although they may not necessarily be operating on maximum draft.
However, several speakers noted that West Africa faces potentially greater congestion issues than other regions that will also attract larger ships. West Africa’s ports are almost entirely dependent on road transport, therefore, the bigger the ship the more severe the landside congestion in the surrounding cities.
Delegates heard that it was not uncommon for container ships to spend several days at anchor awaiting berths and a further week discharging and loading. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development ports and shipping administrator Olaf Merk referred to thousands of trucks causing a traffic gridlock in West African cities, as they await containers that may not have arrived at port, given the poor standard of communication between stakeholders.
In fact, Merk described West African facilities as probably “the least efficient of all global terminals”.
Transport company United Arab Shipping Nigeria agency line manager Marcus Brinkmann said that Nigeria suffered the same problems as other West African nations, which was an erratic supply of electricity and chronic road congestion.
Nonetheless, the construction of hub ports was thought by many speakers to be the only solution to coping with this potential flood of containers coming in to meet the region’s growing demand.
Donner added that, by 2020, terminal projects in West Africa could provide deep-water capacity for an additional 11.5-million TEU a year. All these projects have a draught of at least 15 m and are aiming at handling vessels from 7 000 TEU to 19 000 TEU.
But even if all of these hub port projects come to fruition, significant challenges remain outside the port gates.
Ghana-based Borderless Alliance president Ziad Hamoui said various studies show that transport and logistics costs in West Africa are among the highest in the world. In fact, transport prices for most African landlocked countries range from 15% to 20% of import costs, which is three to four times higher than in most developed countries.
Key trade challenges include not only long delays at ports and borders, but also inland transit corridors, which can be subject to constant harassment, mainly from uniformed services, while corruption is a serious problem in moving cargoes both within individual countries and particularly across national boundaries.
Agricultural products are subject to persistent tariff and nontariff barriers, Hamoui said, while inefficient customs procedures, unauthorised checkpoints, and unduly high taxes and levies, even on certified nondutiable goods, add to the problems facing expeditors.
Shipping service provider APM Terminals West Africa inland services commercial director Moussa Diop highlighted the opportunities represented by a rapidly expanding and urbanising sub-Saharan population, and the urgent need for significant infrastructure investment in both port and inland logistics to satisfy the projected demands of some of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
Citing a recent African Development Bank report on African trade, Diop pointed out that, while shipping a 40 ft container from Shanghai to Mombasa, in Kenya, costs less than $1 000, moving the same container from Mombasa to the city of Bujumbura, in Burundi, in Central Africa, a distance of approximately 2 000 km, costs $7 000. While the sea voyage from China to Kenya takes 28 days, the roadway journey by truck from Kenya’s primary port into land-locked Burundi requires 40 days.
“The key to success in Africa is integrating port capacity with inland access. It is critical to establish inland capabilities and operations that serve adjacent and hinterland markets, including dry ports and cargo depots. Effective intermodal transportation and inland services involves logistics, trucking, stevedoring, warehousing, storage, cargo handling, container depots and refrigerated container operations. Our goal is to apply our expertise and inland network to solve supply chain bottlenecks and thereby boost trade,” Diop concluded.