Africa’s Overall Container Shipping Reliability at Standstill

A study conducted for this week’s Containerisation International Global Liner Shipping Conference in Hamburg has concluded that the reliability of container shipment deliveries into and out of Africa remains approximately the same for shippers as they did three years ago, Africa’s PortOverview portal said.

However, the schedule reliability and timely container delivery are varying widely due to the sheer number of incidents in and around West African ports, the study shows.

“Despite modest gains reported in the first three months of 2015, overall reliability to and from the continent is still far from optimal,” commented Victor Shieh, Editor-in-Chief of the portal PortOverview Africa.

In the first four months until April 19th in 2015, registered no less than 735 incidents in African ports, of which 36% were congestion-related.

SeaIntel Maritime Analysis has conducted an in-depth study based on over 2000 vessel arrivals and departures to and from Africa per month for the last three years, as well as analysing thousands of monthly actual container deliveries to final inland destinations to and from Africa.

The company has also has studied AIS data of average dwell time in African ports of over 520 vessels per year ranging from 350 –9400 TEU capacity over a three year time period.

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“Overall, the chance a shipper has of a container arriving reliably at its African import destination is no better than it was three years ago. This is particularly true in the case of West Africa, where we have seen no real material improvement in vessel arrivals, average vessel dwell time or genuine advance sin road and rail hinterland connections at the main large West African ports, perhaps with the exception of Luanda in the Southern range and Dakar in the Northern range,” comments SeaIntel Maritime Analyst Morten Berg Thomsen.

Nonetheless, significant port infrastructure investments are being realised by China, Japan the European Union as well as private terminal operators and shipping lines to meet the demand for larger vessels, growing trade and to deal with increasingly difficult bottlenecks to overcome in the short term.

“For Abidjan, Tema, Lome and Lagos alone, the next five years will see a growth in the capacity of existing or new terminals by anything between 10.5 and 12 million TEU per annum. The question is whether the combination of local demand and transhipment business will meet those numbers and if land-based infrastructure growth can handle those volumes,” comments Shieh.
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Over three months have now passed since one of the major global players opted to inaugurate a main line service out of Asia into West Africa averaging 6500 TEU, with the specific aim of building a local feeder network in order to beat congestion and improve container delivery reliability. With elections in Togo at the end of the month, and delays at the Lome terminal following its opening last year, it still remains to be seen whether this bold gamble on local feeders will pay off.

Since MSC officially commenced its Africa Express Service in late January with the arrival of the 8500 TEU Seroja Enam in Lome, we have tracked AIS data of a total of nine of its main line arrivals in Lome and nineteen of its feeder services. Of these, four main line vessels and nine feeders arrived within 24 hours of the scheduled arrival time, which is more or less in line with the average reliability of services from Asia to the African continent in the same time period in 2014. This excludes any service changes involving South African transhipments, Nigerian feedersor Lome’s terminal efficiency which is currently stable” comments Morten Berg Thomsen.

MSC told PortOverview Africa that the feeder deployment has worked well.

“As volume decreased in Q1 (mainly due to Nigeria situation –Naira depreciation, lack of USD currency and election) we were able to adapt our feeder network to best respond to this situation and continue to ensure a good service for our customers. As soon as volumes are restored, we will readapt our fleet accordingly.”

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Infrastructure investment, buoyant service sector and strong agricultural production sustain solid economic growth at 5.75% in 2015 in the lion’s share of Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the IMF. Despite instability and the impact of unstable oil prices on a number of African countries, growth in West African trade continues to rise.

This, combined with the further cascading of larger tonnage from the East-West to African trades will mean the African ports will continue to suffer congestion and major incidents until green field sites come on stream in the coming five years, PortOverview said.