Open Letter To The Managing Director of Gambia Ports Authority
Saidina Alieu Jarjou
It is no doubt that there are few sectors in The Gambia which are crucial in our day-to-day life – one of those is the Gambia Ports Authority (GPA). One would have thought that those entrusted to lead and manage this entity will realize that the price of a candle boils down to how well they operate the port or how badly it is done. All business leaders either those graduating from Harvard or under the tutelage of their parents know that profit is simply TOTAL income less TOTAL costs in simple terms. Essentially, the higher the costs, the less the profit unless the income increases which is what we have been seeing in our modern day the Gambia. For this and many reasons, it is not unusual to ask for the cost of an item on Monday and its D100 only for it to double by Friday evening. Let me now take you through my prescription for a better Port – a better Gambia we want.
1- Unconfirmed reports reaching me has it that the Port Gate throughput of less than 150 containers per day. Like seriously? This is what Senegal does in under 2hrs.
2- Transit yard to decongest the port. For the past few years, GPA has used bond road to store empties. The 40 containers per day movement from GPA to the bond road site does not change anything. In fact, what is the volume of transit from 2016 to date with Senegal closing its borders to the transit cargoes going to Bissau, Southern Senegal, Mali, and Conakry? This needs to be reviewed as I believe the focus of GPA should be where the management can make quick revenue for the country.Especially looking at the impact of COVID-19.
Current State of GPA and realities which the public need to know?
1- In the Gambia, we have container shipping lines, bulk and breakbulk vessels, cruise ships and tankers bringing in fuel. Due to the size of the container ships, they berth at berth number 3 (3A and 3B). Long enough to berth two 1200TEU vessels but not enough for 2400TEU vessels. Due to this reality and poor operational, equipment and planning – the waiting times of ships is anywhere between 2-7days depending on the pressure the shipping line can put on GPA or its connection. For this and many other reasons, cruise ships (time conscious), car carriers and most tankers prefer to call the port of Dakar. It is now a daily occurrence to see second-hand vehicles being driven from Dakar to Banjul via the AYUB border or Karang (whenever the ferry is operational)
2- Berthing and move rate: it is alleged that GPA is currently doing less than 10 containers loaded or discharged per hour compared to 40 in Senegal and 15-20 in Bissau. What happens is that Ships (Vessels) generally do what we call ‘cut and run’ which means the ships simply discharge and leave the port. This eventually means the number of empty containers keeps increasing week on week – how won’t there be congestion in the port?
3- Shipping line frequency – due to the berthing delays plus poor move rate, the shipping lines are now calling the port of Banjul around 25% less than they would normally do. The exporters are suffering big time – go and makemarket research and you will realise that getting a box out for stuffing is harder than seeing president former President Trump of the US.
4- You will be surprised to know that Car carriers and cruise ships are not simply calling Dakar (don’t tell me COVID’19 as this has been there pre-COVID)
5- Safety – is another issue of concern at GPA. Perhaps, it could arguably be the most dangerous port in our subregion. You might wonder to see People walking up and down, below the lifted containers. Is a disaster waiting to happen? Again, wondering why we do nothave processes and systems in place not to have clearing agents in the yard? I will come back with a suggested solution.
Operations review from my viewpoint.
There are various types of operations, but I will not bore you with those details – I will focus on the type of operations at GPA. Its Reach stacker + vessel crane operations.
1- Poor move rate – less than 10 moves per hour. How to improve this – when a vessel is at berth and starts operations, each crane needs to have one reach stacker, 7 trucks at the berth and a similar number of reach stacker at the yard. Why this methodology and use – productivity is determined by having the crane operating all the time. If the crane stops, productivity drops almost immediately. The paradox is that vessel staying beyond 24hrs get penalized on a charge the port calls ‘berthage castoff’ while the poor job is done by GPA – in other ports and countries, the stevedoring company signs a move rate agreement with the shipping lines.
2- Yard layout – the current 8-9 deep, 4high and 20 containers wide is a recipe for having the reach stackers working for hours before reaching the desired container. This results in reach stackers being overused, so also fuel and staff fatigued. Remember, the reach stacker does around 15 moves per hour. I bet, 80% of the moves of the reach stackers are moves that are not billed.
3- Yard management plan. I believe that almost all the senior managers at GPA have been well trained – how they do not implement a yard management plan is a mystery but again, a yard management plan which links the moves to finance and invoicing is not something our country and its people are happy to see.
4- A thorough look at the port revenue split will show that the port has 2 main revenue drivers.
a. Revenue from ships which are in Euros ranging from EUR80-150K every 24-36hrs (depending on vessel characteristics, number of containers, size,and time of berthing or unberthing). The Port tariff is a public document and can be accessed by all and sundry.
b. End users who pay D750 for 20 foot and D1500 for 40 foot. As the port mentioned doing around 150 units per day – this translates to D112.5K to D225K per 24hrs or in Euro terms (EUR2k to EUR4k) in handling. Is this where the port should focus really? Why are we losing vessels because we are congested in the port due to poor movement of empties and full boxes in the yard?
5- Could it be the GPA management lack focus? Why focus on the less revenue drives and forget the main drivers? For this and many reasons, all progressive Ports, and nations such as Senegal, Bissau, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria etc simply opened the doors to the creation of inland container depots (ICDs) which focus on immediately moving the full and empties to the yards and only return to the port when vessels are in port or about to berth. This allows the management to focus on productivity drives, higher income and reduce cost base – why is the Gambia not thinking along those lines? To add insult to injury – I saw a few days ago – GPA management and GRA walking around a yard for transit cargo – which transit cargo? Should the port even waste time on such? Should they not simply let prospective depot operators build and operate their yards allowing the shipping lines, the customers and forwarders make the choices as is in the progressive nations?
Recommendations for the way forward
As I penned down this open letter, I know some are reading with a biased mind which is fine – I submit to us that our role is midwifery – we deliver the baby (message), whether the baby is strangled to death or made to live – only time will tell but be reminded that since 2017, we lost the multimillion-dollar cashew trade due to Senegal’s decision to ban the trucking of nuts to Banjul from southern Senegal, and what did Senegal do since then? Improvement of Ziguinchor Port as well as the building of Kaolack Port and giving special dispensation to cargo destined for Mali via Dakar (Senegal competes with Ivory Coast, Ghana and Gambia). The Gambia is out of the equation masterfully executed by our more illustrious brothers.
1- GPA needs a yard management system having reviewed, drawn and clear yard layout.
2- Have an electronic data interface with all shipping lines, GRA, transport ministry and relevant stakeholders and a dashboard at the level of the honourable minister to know exactly how many containers, ships, or throughput the port has done per day/week/month.
3- The EDI to be linked to financing, invoicing, manifest and GRA for clarity on waivers and reasoning and decision on scanning, manual inspections, and prioritization of cargo.
4- Make the yard safe with the implementation of a man free yard. People do not need to go and look for their containers in the port.
5- For transparency, have a delivery appointment system with truckers. One needs to feel sorry for the truck drivers who wake up at 5am and only load if lucky at 5pm.
6- Discontinue investing in transit depot, have it done by the investors with standards layout by GRA as the body responsible for collection of taxes.
7- Hygiene and sanity need to prevail. Management needs to be honest and deliver the services and forward think what they wish to leave behind a legacy.
8- Have a review session on the equipment (plant) needs of the port.
9- Should your HO be at the centre of the operations? Take a leaf from Senegal – demolish that building and the warehouse next to it as well as the police post to make space for the yard stacking and free movement for trucks from bulk quay to the gate.
10- Demolish the PWD warehouses and have them at the bond road – let the others invest in them. Back to basics – loading and offloading of cargo from ships.
Thank you very much for taking the time to read and hopefully, you will appreciate that we are in 2021 – not 1992 when there was no internet or had a few educated on port operations. We have quite few who know exactly what is happening – in all cases – let the public know the truth.
The author is a leading blogger and an activist who can be reached via [email protected]