Despite Ebola, West Africa is open for business

Health and Safety, Medical, Ports & Terminals, Safety and Security — By on November 11, 2014 at 7:42 PM

TOC 11112014West African ports and shipping have seen limited impact of the Ebola crisis so far, but it’s only prudent that they remain on high alert. The two-day high-level TOC Market Briefing in Tenerife this December will assess this and other challenges facing the region’s maritime sector

London,  11.11.2014 – At the forthcoming TOC Market Briefing: West Africa, which takes place in Tenerife on 10-11 December, leading industry analysts and stakeholders will discuss the numerous challenges facing West Africa’s port sector, including the potential impact of the Ebola outbreak on the region’s maritime industry. 

Ports on alert

The Ebola outbreak has so far not had any significant impact on container shipping in West Africa. The main challenges in the region continue to be congestion and poor infrastructure which hampers hinterland connectivity. But given the significance of this epidemic, West Africa’s ports will have to remain on high alert over the coming months.

A recent briefing paper from SeaIntel Maritime Analysis pointed out that in terms of container shipping the Ebola outbreak could be a contributing rather, than principal, factor behind a recent decline in schedule reliability. Carriers have reshuffled their service networks, while ports and terminal operators have tightened up procedures to prevent the disease spreading, but the root causes of inadequate infrastructure outside the terminal gates predominate along with congestion issues in some ports.

A number of ports in West Africa have instigated special screening measures for vessel calls, although this can be limited by the ability of port health officers to process more than a handful of vessels in a given period.

SeaIntel COO and Partner Alan Murphy is a keynote speaker at TOC Market Briefing: West Africa. The briefing paper stressed that this analysis is based on the current situation for container shipping in the region. But this picture depends on the Ebola virus not becoming widespread in countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon as the largest ports in the region are located in these countries. The situation could potentially be catastrophic if some of the major countries were hit, and a more serious impact would be felt on supply-chain operations to and from the region, it concluded.

Crisis masks steady growth

Another analysis, by Drewry Maritime Research, has said that balancing Ebola restrictions with the addition of more capacity as carriers upgrade services is set to challenge the Asia-West Africa trade.

Continued steady traffic on Asia-West Africa is masking the upheaval taking place on this route on the back of the spread of Ebola. August traffic volumes of 132, 000 TEU marked a slight month-on-month dip of 2%, but a 10% increase year-on-year proves the continued importance of West African import demand. However, restrictions on onward port calls and lengthy delays in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal and Nigeria – Africa’s largest economy – are set to take their toll on this trade.

Drewry concluded that in spite of increasing Ebola restrictions, the comparatively profitable West Africa trades will see carriers continue to upgrade existing services to prepare for future port infrastructure improvements, which in turn will keep freight rates under pressure.

Drewry Senior Advisor Michel Donner is participating in a high level conference session on the opening morning of the event discussing West Africa Container Trades: Trends, forecasts and market analysis.

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