The African transhipment race

July 15, 2012 — Leave a comment

Have you noticed the debate in the on-line Global Ports Forum about who will become the main container terminals in East and West Africa? Portstrategy.com has taken it upon themselves to score some of the suggestions.

Nigeria is strongly identified as a hub for the west coast of Africa – we score that 7 out of 10. It has the potential but will new port development be delivered in time? Will the off-take infrastructure development be implemented in concert with port development at places like Lekki? Will Lekki’s hub function be undermined by other deepwater facilities being delivered first on the African coast?

Generally, they agree with the view expressed by one wise head in the Forum that the race for hub status on the West African coast is now a fierce one. However, we don’t agree with the contention that Angola will have a serious say in becoming a major hub for West Africa. It will struggle for some time yet to meet its own port capacity needs let alone fulfil a regional function. We score this suggestion 2 out of 10; go to the bottom of the class!

South Africa as a hub for East and West Africa? Well to a limited extent it does already fulfil this role but when South Africa booms its priority has to be gateway cargo and it is limited in terms of its economic and geographical reach. It is also not ideal because of position; we won’t score the suggestion down but conversely we also won’t score it up because it is a fair point. We do, however, see as a negative the continuing emphasis on the public operation of this country’s ports – it spells very high cost comparatively speaking and coupled with this, ironically, not the best service.

Doraleh Container Terminal, Djibouti? Yes we would agree that this has a role to play in container transhipment for East Africa and particularly with its phase two expansion now underway. The price is right for transhipment here but the cost of cargo movement to the main transit destination of Ethiopia is coming in for increasing criticism. It also has a limited reach along the East Coast. Another score of 7.

Mombasa? Yes huge potential for the East Coast of Africa but as history shows no political will to deliver new port capacity in line with demand. Nine in theory but five in practice.

The new port of Lamu? Designed to act as an export gateway for South Sudan, construction has begun on the $23bn (£14.5bn) port project and oil refinery in south-east Kenya’s coastal Lamu region near war-torn Somalia’s border. With a planned multi-purpose port function, because it is a ‘clean slate’ it could take on the hub function. Another 7.

So what is Port Strategy’s view?

In West Africa, we note that new purpose-built, deep draft container port capacity has either recently been installed or is about to be installed in West Africa in six or seven locations. In Lome in Togo and Pointe Noire in the Congo, for example, new facilities are set to come on-stream by end 2014 at the latest which will be able to handle vessels of up to 7,000 teu. We therefore suggest that there will be a split of hubbing activity between all these locations but with the first two or three terminals on-line grabbing the main part of transhipment activity. We also see a continuing role in the short-term at least for hubs such as Algeciras that ‘face’ Africa.

In East Africa we cannot escape the logic of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam but will they pick up the pace quick enough to seize the opportunity? Sadly, not so far. Lamu, therefore, may have a big role to play. Source: Portstrategy.com

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