Déjà vu: As Former President realizes dream port in Walvis Bay

 Fast-forward two decades later, an air of urgency has gripped the Namibia Port Authority (Namport), and the western part of Walvis Bay.

There is some sense of anxiety as Namport Chief Executive Officer Bisey /Uirab and port Engineer Elzevir Gelderbloem, wait to receive their guest.

At 88, the visitor to the port still looks sharp, a bit shorter than he did during the liberation struggle as he led the country towards independence in 1990. What is still the same is his signature infectious smile, broad and welcoming. You would mistake him to be the host.

Dr. Sam Nujoma is in town to visit the site of the New Container Terminal in the Port of Walvis Bay and the New National Oil Storage facility at the Port of Walvis Bay, North Port.

“There is no way Tate Sam will walk all these projects unless he has some superhuman strength,” one employee ad libs Oshiwambo, going through his paces.

It is very rare that the Founding Father of the Namibian Nation makes public appearances. A seasoned maverick Nujoma has as age catches up with him, reclined his appearances to national events and seldom makes a public speech.

But on this very day, Namibia’s First President was like a kid on a playground, beating the frail dignity of his old age without the huge entourage that many of his hosts are used to. It appears a private visit but has national consequences.

Today Nujoma sees first hand for the first time, the Container Terminal on Reclaimed Land in the Port of Walvis Bay Project where Chinese company CHEC is building a container terminal which can handle up to 750,000 TEU’s annually with berthing facilities for large cargo vessels inside the Port of Walvis Bay.

Later, he will tour the Oil Storage Project, a Joint Venture Project between Namibian companies managed by the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

This project will see the construction of an Oil Storage Facility including berthing, docking area for oil tankers, a pipeline to transfer the imported oil to a storage area, a tank farm with oil storage capacity of 75,000 cubic meters.

The construction of this project is being managed by a Joint Venture between Chinese State-Owned CHEC, Namibian government owned Roads Contractor Company and local black owned Babyface Civils, with Ministry of Mines and Energy as the managing client.

The national oil storage terminal is but one phase of the huge new North Port program. This first phase consists of the construction of two new jetties each capable of accommodating a 60,000 DWT tanker with the associated supporting infrastructure to convey the refined oil products to the new tank farm.

The north port sits on 1330 hectares of land, and five times that much in the water area, whereas the existing South Port only has access to 150 hectares of land which includes the newly reclaimed 40 hectares.

Subsequent phases of the North Port program include terminals for handling LNG, LPG, dry bulk, ship repair yards, multi-purpose terminals and much more, all to cater for port capacity demand over the next 50 to 100 years. For Nujoma, there is eerie of déjà vu. The project was started in 2005 when he stepped down but Namport only started with implementation almost a decade later in 2014.

He has lived to see the success of the blood that was shed during the liberation struggle as he led the fight for freedom before embarking on the economic emancipation of his nation.

Somewhat on this day, his sense of fidelity is legendary, having become over the years, the development vector for progress while preserving Namibia’s history, an aura often equated with his statesmanship.

He is visiting a project which is now nearing completion having employed 2100 Namibians since 2014 and currently employs 600 locals on site, /Uirab tells him.

“All the bore piles construction work which is one of the most difficult jobs is nearly completed. The dredging and reclamation work is also completed. Nearly all the other works needed to complete the project have already commenced. We are in the final stages,” says Feng Yanfei, the CHEC Project Manager.

As of July 2017, the new container terminal progress in terms of construction time is 64%. The following picture summarizes the various activities and their respective progress.

As can be seen from the picture above, dredging and reclamation are so to say completed at 97%, what is now ongoing is mostly civil and building works. These will all be completed by end of 2018 after which testing and commissioning will start.

“If you invite me for the inauguration, I will definitely come,” says Dr. Nujoma, further expressing satisfaction with what he was witnessing, adding, “what you are doing is key to the sustainability of our nation.”

And for the Namport employees, the old adage that extreme old age brings wisdom and should be venerated, explains the attentiveness of the Namport crew as he speaks.

Says Yanfei, “Namibia has a very conducive political environment for investment. CHEC’s biggest lesson is that with the right environment, international companies will always be interested in doing business with Namibia, in Namibia. Namibia has a very diverse population and for any organization to work here, it must understand the dynamics of the local political, economic and social landscape.

It took us a while to understand and develop these relationships, but we believe that we have now formed very long-lasting friendships on all levels of Namibian society, including the media.”

Namport chief executive officer Bisey /Uirab is determined to making the Walvis Bay port the preferred African west coast port and logistics corridor for southern and central African logistics operations. Already Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe consider Walvis Bay Port the nearest and fastest trade gateway to global markets, especially Europe, China and South America, Nujoma is informed.

Namport is expected to handle more copper from Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo “and the two markets have responded positively”.

The two countries are among the top 10 copper producers in the world. The new container terminal will be well equipped to handle anticipated increases in cargo volumes.

“As of June 2016, four superpost Panamax ship-to-shore quay cranes were under construction in Shanghai, China,” /Uirab said.

The expectations of Namport customers, which are predominantly major shipping lines like Maersk and CMA CGM, continue to focus on productivity, reliability, efficiency, and cost effectiveness. In addition, the trend to mega ships is here to stay resulting in larger vessels being cascaded to other trade routes, especially along the Europe-South Africa trade route, Nujoma is briefed.

Adds /Uirab, “This is a burden on our ports as they have to heavily invest in infrastructure to accommodate such larger vessels with no guaranteed return on investment nor increase in volumes.

In addition, larger vessels equate to fewer vessel calls resulting in business peaks. The challenge is to mitigate the risk of reduced cash flows arising from inflexible labour costs incurred due to the continuous shift system operating during business troughs. Currently, the average container vessel size is 8,000 TEUs, however, 89% of the world order book is in respect of vessels of more than 8,000 TEUs.”

The Port of Walvis Bay currently handles 5,700 TEU vessels at its container terminal, bearing in mind that larger vessels also place pressure on the hinterland logistics of rail and road with congestion being a very unwelcome and costly side effect. Namport cargo volumes have sharply declined with the concomitant decrease in revenue, but at the same time operating costs are increasing. The global container market is growing at a slow pace with a modest growth of 3.3% worldwide, and 3.8% in Africa, in 2016.

“As a port, we deal with a lot of economies along the West Coast of Africa, more especially the oil reliant economy of Angola which has been seriously affected by the drop in the oil price resulting in a drastic reduction in imports through the Port of Walvis Bay to Angola,” he furthers.

Southern African ports continue to aggressively drive port expansion and transport corridor development, as Namibian ports are competing for the same hinterland business as neighbouring ports – cargo to and from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and the DRC – and to remain relevant in the SADC Region. This according to /Uirab has led to Namport ensuring that its port infrastructure is on par, if not better, than the competition.

He continued, “In this stressful time of a marked downturn in business, our dilemma is to strike a balance between satisfying the expectations of the various stakeholders and ensuring we sustain a healthy balance sheet and cash flows. More importantly, we must strive to maintain and improve our port of call status in Southern Africa and continue to provide a strong foundation for the establishment of the Namibia Logistics Hub.”

Once the New Container Terminal comes on stream, the current container terminal will be utilized for multi-purpose cargo which will create the opportunity for increased bulk and break-bulk business in that larger cargo vessels can be accommodated at the existing container terminal berths.

The most prolific development in terms of increasing capacity and expanding Port of Walvis Bay footprint is undoubtedly the SADC Gateway development which is situated further north from the current port area.

There is a growing demand for the import and export of bulk commodities in SADC and this port area will be ideally suited for this purpose. The 1330-hectare development will be the key spoke in the Namibia Logistics Hub and will be a major port gateway serving the “shopping mall” of SADC countries.

/Uirab impressed upon the Founding Father that Namport had initiated the feasibility study process for the establishment of a Multipurpose Bulk Terminal accommodating under 10 million tonnes per annum at the SADC Gateway.

Weighs in Xu Yuqing, the Chec deputy project manager for the Walvis Bay New Container Terminal and the National Oil Storage Facilities Project, “We believe that the Container Terminal on Reclaimed Land project will change the way the country does business with its southern African neighbors.

It will greatly increase the throughput capacity of the Port of Walvis Bay, which is already rated as one of the most efficient ports in Africa. This will greatly benefit the economies of the landlocked countries of Southern Africa and in turn that of Namibia.

Secondly, we are excited about the number of new skills we were able to impart to the Namibians working on this project.

Although this is a highly technical project, many Namibians obtained for the first time, experience in Marine Engineering of any kind and this is a legacy we leave Namibia after the project is completed.”


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