Cost of Port of Owendo maintenance worksXAF 6 billion (USD 10.2 million)
Projected completion date of Owendo Port maintenance worksQ4 2019
Fluid functionsAugust 12, 2016
Gabon Port Management managing director Oswald Séverin Mayounou talks to TOGY about logistical issues at the Owendo Port concerning moving vessels efficiently through the port and the need for the constant maintenance of infrastructure. Gabon Port Management, which belongs to Japan’s Mitsui & Co., signed a 25-year convention with the Gabonese government in 2007 and manages the commercial ports of Owendo and Port-Gentil.
What renovations have been recently carried out by Gabon Port Management in the port of Owendo?
Apart from having added two Gottwald mobile cranes in 2012 and one in 2014 at the Owendo Port, the biggest renovation is related to the piles under the quays in Owendo, as that port was built back in 1974. Because of its fragility, we must renovate and repair the façade of the pontoon under the docks every six years. The works, being carried out by CGTE [Gabonese Company of Work and Study], began at the end of 2015 and will take around four years.
These renovation works are what we call “hidden works” because you cannot tell that they are taking place when you go to the port, as the construction is underwater. The budget for this project is around XAF 6 billion (USD 10.2 million). In fact, the renovations are continuous, and this is one of the greater ones that we have to face in Libreville because the Owendo port is on piles and in an estuary while the one Port-Gentil is not.
How would you assess the economic viability of the three mobile cranes at Owendo?
Gabon Port Management rents these cranes out to operators such as STCG [Container Terminals Firm of Gabon]. Apart from that, we outsource the maintenance and provision of the cranes to local operators. The cranes’ arrival at the port of Owendo has been a true revolution in the sense that we’ve significantly improved our waiting and unloading times.
A mobile crane can easily unload a ship in two days, while with a deck crane it takes around one week to unload. Nonetheless, today our cranes are not being sufficiently operated as our clients are facing logistical difficulties.
Apart from container ships, which are obliged to use our mobile cranes, it is easier for our clients to unload their cargo with their own deck cranes even if the rate of unloading is longer, for the simple reason that they don’t have storage areas outside of the Customs area and they don’t have efficient logistical routing plans from the Customs area to their base. Basically, they just want to send the cargo straight away to the final customer so as not to lose time.
At the same time, there is also a problem regarding the on-ground capacity, which is not able to follow the unloading frequency of our mobile cranes.
What difficulties does that bring for Gabon Port Management?
A ship that uses its deck cranes to unload cement, for example, can take eight days. During these eight days, the space is occupied and no other ships can come in. They are forced to wait outside of the port.
As long as the operators do not do anything about that, we will always have longer waiting times that unfortunately make it look as if the port is not efficient, while the problem is actually the clients who refuse to use our mobile cranes for fear of “suffocating” from the lack of logistical support and storage facilities. Operators therefore prefer to use their own deck cranes, which take more time.
We are at risk of ending up with a congested harbour with a great of equipment on the harbour because the clients have difficulties rapidly evacuating their merchandise to its base.
Are you planning to invest in mobile cranes for the port in Port-Gentil?
Currently, in Port-Gentil we only rely on deck cranes. We are committed to a study in Port-Gentil to research the question of if and how it could withstand a mobile crane, taking into account the issues that mobile cranes have raised in the Owendo port. This is an important question because we do know that there is a demand coming from our operators and our clients.
How could the Port-Gentil port function more effectively?
Lately, there have been questions about a project to extend the port. However, in the end, we realised that – as the port is a deepwater port – there is no waiting time and no congestion. Traffic is very fluid, ships enter, unload and leave. Things go fast in Port-Gentil.
The issue in Port-Gentil is more with regards to the organisation and management of space. This is precisely what Gabon Port Management is currently working on with OPRAG [l’Office des Ports et Rades du Gabon] and STCG as we received a proposal to build a mini container terminal in Port-Gentil. We are in the process of working to see how all containers could be centralised in one place like it is done in Libreville, in order to facilitate the removal of incoming merchandise.
Which types of innovative techniques do you plan on bringing to the ports of Port-Gentil and to Owendo?
In terms of innovative techniques, everyone knows that the world changes according to what is currently trending. Today, this means that we must adapt ourselves to the new trends that are imposed on us.
It is for this reason that Gabon Port Management developed a hydrography service some time ago. Seeing the material that we possess, we are practically the only ones in Gabon that carry out such a service. We can provide fully equipped bathymetric surveys along the entire 800-km coast of Gabon. As such, we are doing feasibility studies on the port of Mayumba, which is currently under construction.
We also provide an AIS service in Owendo in terms of port authority. That is to say, when the ships arrive within a certain perimeter of the Gabonese waters and are willing to enter the Owendo port, we are already able to track them. For example, we know where the ship is, how fast it is advancing, in which direction it is going, when it will reach our port, the size and specificities of the ship, whether it is cargo or another type of ship, etc. With our AIS system, we are able to identify all types of information regarding incoming ships.
What are you doing to increase the depth of the estuary and allow bigger vessels to enter the Owendo port?
Contrary to the port in Port-Gentil which is situated in deep waters, the Owendo port lays in an estuary so we face accumulation of silt every time a ship enters or leaves. One of our biggest workloads and one of our biggest charges today is dredging the entire Owendo port, which involves suctioning the sand there. As such, we have a contract with Boskalis, which is doing the dredging works. They dredge every month in order to ensure reasonable depths.
Today, more and more ships that we receive are deep-draught vessels. Therefore, to be able to let larger ships come in we are obliged to dredge. The problem is that we need a maximum of four days every two months to dredge around 40,000 cubic metres to have proper water depths.
When you go downtown, you can see that there are a lot of ships waiting. That is because we have to dredge. If the bathymetric survey conducted by our technical crew alerts us that we do not have a good depth, we will not risk allowing a ship to pass through anyways. In this case, we are obliged to dredge.
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