Interview: Grégory Quérel

What is the impact of the global economic situation on your activity in Africa?

GREGORY QUÉREL: We do not feel an economic slowdown. Flows on the African continent are increasing in most countries, regardless of the social movements associated with the political tensions that occur in some of them. In cases of unrest, maritime activity gets shifted over to neighbouring countries. We live on a continent with rich subsoil – the target of increased prospection and exploration – and it is also experiencing population growth. African imports and exports are growing, and the share of manufactured goods is rising.

How has this affected investments and capital expenditure in the maritime transport sector?

QUÉREL: There is some catching up being done, and this creates the need for investment in capacity to manage flows to avoid congestion, long waiting times and the extra costs of goods, without forgetting that at the end there are often problems with payments for merchandise. Thus, players in the maritime sector must prioritise their investments and act with greater urgency than in the past, while being more innovative in terms of the investment proposals put forward to governments. For example, we need to seek out more local financing, which understands the economic activity in Africa better than European sources. That means proposing much stronger partnership solutions to governments in such a manner that if a project is proposed by multiple partners, there are more chances for it to be achieved, and also for finding an advantageous financial solution for all the stakeholders.

In what way can building more mineral terminals improve access to the continent’s resources?

QUÉREL: There are certain goods that cannot be containerised. For that reason, I think one of the most promising areas of logistics in Africa is in mineral terminals, and this requires increased proximity to mining firms, and implies the development of rail, river and road infrastructure. Governments have much to gain from extraction to exit points, because there is a flow that will be established with the ability to create development corridors. We need to have a long-term vision, as such projects involve colossal investments. Hence the need for both entities that can operate terminals and government assistance, which is key to these projects.

What are the priorities for improving inter-modal transport in Gabon and in Africa?

QUÉREL: Governments have come to realise the necessity of investing in infrastructure and of entrusting the operation of these facilities to professionals. The important thing is to seal everything in contracts, so that all parties know in advance the tasks that they are responsible for accomplishing. This again demonstrates the need for a long-term vision. Inbound infrastructure must be created, with the rest following in a logical sequence and in a reasonable timeframe.

How can the operational efficiency of port facilities be improved and what projects are under way?

QUÉREL: The current context is interesting because in Owendo there are plans to expand and improve container terminal operations and projects to increase investment in equipment that will boost ship processing capacity. Additionally, there are also efforts to expand the surface area, including the creation of new docks and storage space. There is an investment programme for the renewal of equipment to optimise increases in capacity. The port’s handling system is being updated with an investment in RTG, which is a common container handling system at the world’s largest ports. Libreville will have much more modern and efficient capabilities. For Port-Gentil, the government is determined to create an efficient port that can handle the city’s economic activity, which is beyond the capacity of the existing port. There is also a project in Mayumba to promote inland ports and terminals, and extensions of the coastal terminals into the interior of the country.