Interview: Rigobert Ikambouayat Ndeka

How will maritime transport change over the coming years in terms of volumes and goods?

RIGOBERT IKAMBOUAYAT NDEKA: Port activity in Gabon revolves around bulk shipping for raw oil, and mining and forestry products, as well as containerised shipping. With a current output of 230,000 barrels per day (bpd), oil production has decreased from 12.1m tonnes in 2011 to 11m tonnes in 2014. Based on current trends, oil production will keep decreasing in 2015 unless deep offshore oil seeps are discovered within the 43 blocks made available for oil exploration. Manganese is the only ore exported by sea and is produced by Eramet, as well as Indian and Chinese companies. It accounts for 2% of Gabon’s GDP and 9% of total exports. Although manganese production has decreased by 10%, down to 3.7m tonnes in 2014, it should rebound to 3.8m tonnes in 2015, up by 2.7%.

Moreover, forestry in Gabon is also experiencing rapid transformation. The creation of a special economic zone in Nkok for wood processing and restructuring efforts by Rougier should lead to an increase in wood production. Container traffic has also increased by 1% in 2014 and is expecting follow an upward trend of about 4% in 2015.

The government is also planning to develop port infrastructure, including the ongoing construction of a new dock at Owendo, the construction of storage areas in Libreville and Port-Gentil, the ongoing development of Libreville’s Champ Triomphal dock project and the construction of a second ore tanker terminal in Barracuda.

In what ways should port charging evolve to ensure Gabon’s competitiveness in the sub-region?

NDEKA: Port charges in Gabon are among the cheapest in the sub-region. However, administrative procedures have resulted in some bottlenecks. As a result, OPRAG is making efforts to offset the high port transit costs. Specifically, we are switching to a per-box pricing scheme and we are improving the tax system for cargo kept beyond the free period at very competitive rates. We should also look towards fostering a more flexible port charging system that would lead to a drop in prices of around 10-15%.

What strategies can be adopted to increase logistical performance in port activities?

NDEKA: A series of investments can be made to improve port handling activities, including the implementation of a one-stop shop that will lead to a better service through the traceability of operations in real time and the reduction of waiting times, the acquisition of equipment such as lift trucks that will speed up handling operations, the development of storage areas such as warehouses and the construction of dry ports. Moreover, training programmes should be set up to shorten dwell times, which currently average around four days, according to the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report.

What can be done to develop human capital for infrastructure and equipment maintenance?

NDEKA: One of OPRAG’s priorities is to develop a team spirit based on skills, excellence, performance, creativity and responsibility. To respond to the challenges of globalisation, OPRAG is involved in the pilot phase of the UN Conference on Trade and Development’s RAF96/A49 project. The work consisted of training middle managers to work on port activities.

In addition to this, OPRAG has acquired high-quality equipment, including the automatic identification system and vessel traffic services system that will help us regulate the flow of maritime traffic. Therefore, we must now focus our efforts on investing in technical training geared towards the use of these tools. In particular, well trained staff are instrumental in ensuring sound management and the efficient maintenance of port equipment.