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Slow and steady at Dar es Salaam port

Sea freighting non-time-sensitive goods to East Africa is the most cost-effective option available to South African cargo owners, writes Tristan Wiggill.

Like the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), Danish shipping major Maersk Line transports cargo from the Durban port to the Dar es Salaam port on a weekly basis, with trips usually taking around 30 to 31 days to complete.

Using modest, 1800 TEU vessels, the spot cargo it ships north frequently includes construction materials, food aid and project cargo related to infrastructure developments.

“Poor weather conditions can be a challenge along the route, which have the ability to impact port operations,” says Matthew Conroy, trade manager for Maersk Line Southern Africa. “It is, therefore, important that seafarers plan the best route and prepare for any conditions that are likely to be experienced en route and at the destination port,” he adds.

“The container terminal in Dar es Salaam delivers around 30 berth moves an hour, which is much improved from the average hourly moves achieved in 2014. The port of Mombasa in neighbouring Kenya, meanwhile, delivers around 24 berth moves per hour. Smaller East African ports deliver substantially lower productivities than this,” he explains.

Maersk Line does not provide a return leg to Durban on this sea route, instead offering transhipment services from the Middle East.

Port problems

The Dar es Salaam port will soon be under threat from two new ports that are being built in close proximity. Bagamoyo, just 75 km up the Tanzanian coast will, once completed, be the largest port in East Africa, boasting double Dar’s container capacity. Kenya’s Lamu port, meanwhile, which forms part of the LAPSSET Corridor Programme, will soon also become a transhipment hub for East and Southern Africa.

As it is, the port in Dar es Salaam is hamstrung by its real-estate limitations; by global standards the port is incredibly small. Two berths (13 and 14) have recently been added, but the port is still under considerable pressure to ease vessel congestion. A major limiting factor is that the port itself is not expandable and, so, important commodities like grain silos cannot be situated in the port area.

In addition to Bagamoyo, large investments at the Djibouti port further north mean it is quickly becoming a transhipment hub for East Africa and the Middle East and a gateway point to the forthcoming transcontinental road to Dakar.

Djibouti, with controlled access to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, is already benefitting from the ‘new’ Suez Canal, widened last year to accommodate two-way vessel traffic. Djibouti is also a cable landing point for SEACOM, whose undersea cables enable Internet access on the continent.

According to PWC’s Africa Gearing Up report, Dar es Salaam’s performance indicators compare well to those of other Eastern and Southern African ports. It cites low container dwell time, low truck processing time, and high crane productivity. The report goes on to say that Dar es Salaam is a leader in sub-Saharan Africa in container handling productivity and ranks among the top in general cargo handling.

However, the European Union (EU) reports that shipping costs at Dar es Salaam are among the highest in the world.

Currently, the cost of using the port is 24% higher than other port facilities in sub-Saharan Africa, as it suffers from significant capacity constraints – caused by high traffic growth and poor backward linkages with inland transport networks – and congestion.

Its demand-to-capacity ratio is the highest in Africa after Mombasa. Adding to the pressure, Dar es Salaam also accommodates transhipments that Mombasa cannot handle due to its own severe capacity constraints and operational inefficiencies.

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