Namibia’s port authority Namport plans to spend R2.7 billion (N$2.7bn) on upgrading the port of Walvis Bay within the next three to four years, says Walvis Bay Corridor Group CEO, Johny Smith.
As has been previously reported in PORTS & SHIPS, Walvis Bay is to be expanded with a new container terminal that will double the annual capacity of the port from approximately 250,000-TEU currently to 500,000-TEU. Namport hopes to have completed this phase of the port expansion by 2013 or 2014 and will at the same time have increased the draught to enable much larger ships to make use of the port as required.
The real issue facing Walvis Bay however, remains that of having to successfully market the port and region as an alternative to South African and other African ports on the Indian Ocean, which is where the Walvis Bay Corridor Group (WBCG) comes in.
WBCG is a private-public partnership with the task of promoting and selling the concept of Namibia’s corridors to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, the DRC and even southern Angola. In this it has already had some success, although not to the extent that it might have hoped. Volumes moving along the respective road and fairly limited rail corridors remain low, but represent a start and a hint of promise to what is possible.
But to accomplish that promise the port needs some work – this includes deepening the somewhat tricky channels and increasing the capacity of the port generally. In this regard Smith says that a start has been made, with a short list of prospective funders having been identified, and a tender calling for engineering, procurement and construction contractors also issued. He indicated that construction at the port could commence as early as the second quarter of 2011.
Walvis Bay is increasingly marketed as an alternative to South African ports, notably Durban, using the advantage for Gauteng customers that the Namibian port can shave between three and five days off the time taken to ship imports via Durban. This of course applies to cargo coming from Europe or the America’s – obviously this principal does not apply for cargo to or from the Far or Middle East.
As a result of this approach the Trans-Kalahari Corridor was developed, involving a road network extending from Walvis Bay across the widths of Namibia and Botswana before reaching the South African border. A rail corridor option exists via the southern route from South Africa’s De Aar via Upington but has not operated since the early 1990s. More recently Namibia and Botswana have been in talks aimed at building a new railway across central Botswana.
The WBCG hopes to increase the volume of traffic on the Trans Kalahari route and to this end agreements have been reached with the three governments and authorities concerned to remove most of the bureaucratic restrictions that normally hinder and delay road traffic in Africa. This includes the introduction of one-stop border control posts and custom clearance procedures on Botswana’s borders with Namibia and South Africa respectively, where a 20 – 30 minute administrative delay is now said to be the norm.
Although the Trans Kalahari Corridor represents a much longer landside transport challenge than does the shorter road and rail route from Durban to Gauteng, Smith believes the Walvis Bay option is effective in saving a minimum of three days for customers. For time sensitive cargo this can be a determining factor. According to the WBCG it will take no more than 48 hours to complete the transit from the port of Walvis Bay to Gauteng.
The WBCG also promotes the use of the Trans-Caprivi Corridor from Walvis Bay to the Caprivi and the Zambian border in the north-east of Namibia. From here the route is open through Zambia and into the DRC, while further west Namibia is developing the Trans-Cunene Corridor, using rail and road to link the port of Walvis Bay with southern Angola.
One of the boasts used by those promoting Walvis Bay as a port is that the port experiences no congestion and is efficiently operated. This can be an important marketing tool but it hasn’t yet been shown how Walvis Bay or any other southern African port including modern new ports like Ngqura in South Africa’s Eastern Cape will cope once they attract and experience really heavy traffic volumes. Most ports can perform well with low numbers of ships arriving – but it’s how the port copes when the ships begin to bunch and accumulate that will answer the question about real efficiencies and productivity. In that respect the jury is still out
In the meantime it is reassuring to shippers to have increasing options for importing and exporting goods in well equipped ports with hopefully well-run landside transport choices also available.
Source: ports, October 15, 2010;