Business News of 2014-01-14

Development of port and rail vital

Development of the country’s seaports, connected with effective rail network, holds the key to the country’s economic growth to mark a real definition of Ghana as the gateway to Africa.

The Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) is currently carrying out expansion works at the Takoradi Port to make it attractive to importers in Ghana and landlocked countries.

However, the lackluster performance of the rail sector is not providing the right impetus to complement a sterling port system that the country has in place. Besides helping to move more goods faster and cheaply, the rail sub-sector is a source of reliable income to the country.

Poor management, planning and low investment in both the port and the railway sub-sectors have left the rail sector, in particular, in tatters, reeling under debt and poor cash flow.

The Transport Minister, Ms Dzifa Ativor, was not amused during her recent visit to the Takoradi Port, the adjoining railway station and head office of the Ghana Railway Company during her recent visit to the place, as coaches and wagons idled in waste and begged for refurbishment or complete replacements.

Her visit was followed with another by members of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Finance who were at the port for a familiarisation visit for a first-hand information on the dividends the port expansion financing would amount to.

The government has contracted a loan from the China Development Bank to finance a number of projects, including the port expansion, refurbishment of rail lines in the Western Region and the construction of a gas processing facility.

The ongoing expansion works, the major one since the port was constructed in 1928, is expected to cut the long turn-around time at the port.

The Takoradi Port handles major commodities such as manganese, bauxite, clinker, cocoa, wheat, petroleum products, chemicals such as ammonium nitrate, pipes, wood pellets, palm kennel shells, as well as heavy machinery for the mining sector.

However, cocoa, bauxite and manganese are the main export commodities that go through the port and expansive handling makes them uncompetitive in the global market place. This is due to the unique loading approach at the port which has shallow berthing facilities.

This means that bigger vessels have to be loaded to a certain level and then the vessel is tugged to buoys offshore and subsequently loaded with tugboats, which come with additional handling charges.

The deeper berths at the port are between 8.6 metres and 9.3 metres, with the depths of five working buoys ranging from eight metres to 11.3 metres. This is below what world-class crafts require, ports with depths more than 15 metres.

The BUSINESS GRAPHIC team, which was part of the familiarisation tour, chanced on a loading Singaporean vessel, Kot A Bunga, which loaded half-full and moved to a deeper berthing place at the manganese wharf to be loaded with tugboats in the 11.3-metre buoy at an additional cost.

The Director-General of the GPHA, Mr Richard Anamoo, said if Ghana did not improve its ports, neighboring countries would grab the opportunity.

He explained that when completed, the port would have a longer breakwater measuring about 1.75km northward, with deeper berthing places of up to about 16 metres. The project would also reclaim about 53 hectares of land.

There would also be improved infrastructure such as oil services and bulk terminals, first-class road network, an open area for the parking of heavy machinery and storage of pipes and other bulky consumables meant for the oil industry.

The director-general told the delegation that the country stood to benefit a lot from the expansion, and gave the assurance that the project was not going to be a drain on the state resources, as it could pay for itself.

Ready funding

The expansion works, which are in phases, are being funded 197 million euros and US$176 million from the China Development bank (CDB), both commercial loans.

Mr Anamoo said extending the country’s railway network to link border towns with neighbouring countries would make ports in Ghana more attractive to landlocked countries such as Burkina-Faso and Mali.

For her part, Ms Ativor said the government was aware of the positive impact the rail network and port would bring to the country and was pursuing it aggressively, adding that the country was promoting the “hub concept” to serve other countries.

Source: Graphic Business
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