African ports thrive despite economic gloom: almost every sector in every country is suffering from the ongoing global economic crisis. Factories are being closed, GDP forecasts downgraded and belts tightened. Yet the African port sector is one of the few genuine examples of optimism, growth and new investment. Neil Ford reports.

Author:Ford, Neil
Position:Ports
 
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Logistics in Africa

Many of the continent's seaports are bucking the global trend of weak economic indicators; trade volumes are rising, cargo-handling equipment is being upgraded and new ports are being constructed, as the world's biggest port operators compete to develop the most comprehensive African network.

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The continent's biggest economy, South Africa, is certainly playing a full role in port development. While the on-off saga over the Coega project's aluminium smelter has grabbed most of the headlines, transport utility Transnet has quietly got on with the job of constructing the port element of the scheme. Named Ngqura, the port is located just 20km from the existing port of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, but Transnet intends to give the country's first new port for over 30 years a distinctive role as a transhipment centre when its first phase is completed in October.

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Transnet Port Terminals' divisional executive manager for the container sector, Siyabulela Mhlaluka, says that most of the port infrastructure is now in place and the recruitment and training programmes are being completed.

More than R10bn ($1.15bn) has already been invested in the project and a range of cargo handling equipment ordered, including 22 rubber-tyred gantry cranes and six ship-to-shore cranes, which will ensure rapid container handling.

The container terminal will have an initial handling capacity of 800,000 TEU a year (20-foot-equivalent units, the standard size of container), although this will later be expanded to 2m TEU a year. It will be the only port in South Africa able to serve the new generation of Megamax vessels, which carry up to 9,000 TEU and have a draft of 16.5 metres, that are now becoming more commonplace in international shipping.

Another new container terminal has already opened this year at the port of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. Dubai Ports World (DP World) has expanded its operations at the port with the construction of Doraleh Container Terminal, which is now the largest terminal on the east coast of Africa anywhere north of Durban.

Given Djibouti's limited domestic market and the port's ability to serve gigantic 15,000 TEU Super Post-Panamax vessels with a draught of 18 metres, DP World plans to develop the project as a transhipment terminal. As well as providing shipping services for landlocked Ethiopia, cargo from larger vessels will be unloaded there for redistribution to...

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