Gabon: Focusing on port potential
Given the importance of maritime trade corridors for Gabon, a vast array of planned capacity upgrades have been set in motion for the republic’s existing ports, while new facilities have been slated for construction in the interior of the country to better cater to increased output from the extractive industries.
Due to steadily increasing activity at Gabon’s ports in recent years, traffic at Owendo, the country’s principal port, has risen between 7% and 10% annually since 2009. The port, which currently handles about 6m tonnes a year of merchandise, is expecting that figure to grow in the years to come, particularly as the country seeks to increase output in agricultural and industrial sectors.
“Knowing 90% of Gabonese trade passes through maritime transport, it is essential to upgrade the ports and the entire infrastructure sector to remain competitive on the global scale,” Rigobert Ikambouayat Ndeka, the director-general of the Office des Ports et des Rades du Gabon (OPRAG), told OBG. “The creation of special economic zones and the expected growth in the Gabonese trade balance – the export of containers, such as lumber, rose by 57% in 2011 – provide opportunities to further develop the transport and logistics chain.”
To help ensure the ports are able to keep pace with demand, a number of projects have been launched to help expand capacity and improve efficiency and are moving ahead despite a recent strike.
This has begun with the country’s existing facilities, which have been steadily overhauled in recent years. In 2003, the government awarded a 25-year management concession to Portek International, which was recently bought out by Japanese conglomerate Mitsui Group, for both Owendo and Port-Gentil, Gabon’s second-largest port and principal oil-logistics terminal – which together account for more than 80% of Gabon’s trade.
In 2007, the Société des Terminaux de Conteneurs du Gabon, a consortium between French firms Getma/Necotrans and Bolloré, invested approximately CFA12.3bn (€18.7m) in Owendo to build and manage a new container terminal, which opened in 2009, while Mitsui subsidiary GPM has been working to install two 100-tonne cranes, which should be operational in early to mid-2012. A further investment of about CFA40bn (€60m) is planned to build a fourth quay at the port by 2013. Overall, the aim is to increase capacity at Owendo by an estimated 400% by 2015, while boosting the rate at which containers can be filled by up to 75%.
Currently, Owendo’s quay is 455m long and can only accommodate two boats at once. Some 300-500 meters will be added by OPRAG in the next few months, to reach almost 1 km in total and provide enough room for up to four boats at once. This will reduce the waiting times for the traffic of containers at the port.
“Waiting times are estimated to be almost four days per ship,” Philippe Gery, the director-general of Gabon Port Management, told OBG. “We achieve only eight movements per hour, per ship, on average. With the new cranes we will reach 30 movements per hour, per ship, and hence reduce the waiting time of four days to less than one.”
Of course the planned expansion does face some challenges, including a lack of space to expand warehouse and storage facilities, which will constrict the port’s ability to handle multi-modal logistics activities.
A railway is also planned to Mayumba from Mbigou in the interior, which will reduce inland transport costs to the country’s interior and also facilitate trade from to and from the Republic of the Congo. The company’s recent announcement that it would invest €138m in Gabon’s rubber industry also suggests a commitment to the country’s trade network.
The government is also currently rehabilitating five docks and upgrading navigation infrastructure along the Ogooué River as part of a transportation project funded by the African Development Bank. River transport along the Ogooué provides a vital link for both people and goods between Port-Gentil and the rest of the country. The project includes funding for a feasibility study for a river port at Lambaréné.
Steady economic growth and diversification, increased demand, investment opportunities from construction and maintenance to logistics and freight services, combined with the government’s efforts to streamline and encourage private-sector participation, will all play a significant role in ensuring Gabon’s maritime sector will enjoy growth in the medium-to-long term.