The shortcomings of African ports

by

Michael Baker in Foreign Affairs on African maritime problems:

Africa has the least efficient ports in the world. Dwell times — the amount of time a ship must stay in port — for the loading and unloading of cargo exceed global averages by several days and are nearly quadruple those of Asian ports, thus driving up shipping costs through delays. No African port can be found on the list of the top 70 most productive in the world. As a result, shipping companies send smaller, older, and cheaper ships to Africa in an effort to reduce their losses.

A number of factors are to blame: poor harbor maintenance, bureaucratic red tape, inadequate maritime law enforcement, and lax security. Additionally, Sam Bateman, a maritime security expert at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, in Singapore, has demonstrated that pirates and other maritime criminals tend to prey on old, slow, decrepit ships — the types of ships that inefficient and unsecured African ports and waterways attract — because they are easy targets. Half of the ships successfully hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009 fell into the category of the smallest merchant ships.

Moreover, many African ports cannot handle ships of median size due to infrastructure limitations. Meanwhile, the global shipping industry has been modernizing its fleets, scrapping obsolete vessels for newer mega-carriers. This means that shipping companies will continue deploying their remaining smaller and slower ships for transport to and from Africa, increasing the number of easy targets for pirates and further impeding Africa’s ability to export products efficiently. In this environment, companies producing goods in Africa cannot reliably or efficiently get their wares to market. This plays a large role in explaining why Africa garners only 2.7 percent of global trade despite its cheap labor force, cheap commodities, and proximity to major markets.

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2 Responses to “The shortcomings of African ports”

  1. ault Says:

    If half the successful hijackings were rustbuckets, that means that half were not. Given that most of the shipping to African ports is comprised of rustbuckets, shouldn’t we expect them to comprise a higher percentage?

  2. Sean Says:

    @ault, the number of rustbuckets v non-rustbuckets in African ports tells us very little about the rate at which we expect them to be hijacked. Simply counting the types of vessels excludes other relevant data points, such as:
    * Value of cargo;
    * Ease of sale of cargo in legitimate, gray, or black markets;
    * Vessel requirements for carrying certain types of cargo;
    * Location of ports handling higher-quality vessels relative to pirates;
    * Geographical/Economic ease of pirate operations in various locales;
    * Relative security differences between vessels;
    * Expected ransom from a vessel’s flagged country.

    There are likely additional criteria, but you might logic out that nicer boats will carry nicer stuff that attracts more pirates.

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