On Friday, June 8, a subset of the Freshmen class at Ashesi University College toured the Tema port to understand the perceived high cost of imported items here in Ghana. The students traveled on a large bus, a small bus, and my Hilux, merging at the port after dealing with breakdowns and a shopping expedition to the Accra Mall.
Upon reaching the port, the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority Public Relations Officer boarded our lead bus, which meant that the two buses could get waved through the gate. The first stop was the Scanners, a pair of open frames large enough to drive a flatbed loaded with a container through, where the CEPS officers can visualize the contents of a mixed container that is suspected of containing contraband. The students asked why not all containers were scanned, and were told that the capacity of the machines was limited. Bulk containers that are filled with a single commodity are never scanned.
Beyond the scanners is the Golden Jubilee facility and the area where home used vehicles are delivered for sale into Ghana. We returned back to the main quays (which our guide pronouced KEY), where we learned that there are 12 berths on two quays, the second being deeper and designed for modern containerized shipping. We all left the buses and listened to the PRO and two port authority workers describe the layout of the wharfs and the general process for scheduling the loading/unloading operations.
Dr. Stephen Armah then got word that we could have a tour of the scanners, but where we returned to that part of the port, it was just after noon, and we got stuck in a traffic jam. The PRO explained that many of the autos imported are actually driven straight off the boats as would be the case for automobile ferries. We saw some cars being driven, some being towed by others.
When we realized that we would not be making it back to the scanners promptly, we backed out and saw the main port offices, the Duty Free shop (for crew members and Authority workers), and the clinic. We didn't have time to tour the bunkers for petroleum products, the dry dock, or the clinker (raw material for cement production) terminals.
The PRO said that the port was sized to handle a half million containers per year (the Authority's web site claims to have processed 500,000 TEUs in 2009, and as much as 750,000 TEUs during 2011). Meanwhile, the nation's only other deepwater port, Takoradi, claims 55,000 TEUs, but 62% of the nation's outbound traffic, consisting of manganese, bauxite, cocoa, and lumber.
The port has been somewhat privatized with MPS, the operator, owned 35% each by Maersk, France's Bollore Group, and 30% by Ghana Ports and Harbours. This group now runs the two deep wharfs, and apparently has streamlined operations somewhat. Unlike the ports at Lagos, Nigeria, and Abijan, Cote d'Ivoire, vessels cannot be assured of "berthing windows" when a berth would be available for prior reservation at a given time. At Tema, the vessels must queue out in the ocean, and then wait to be berthed on a first come, first served basis.
The transportation of containers in West Africa is quite a bit more expensive than in developed countries. For instance, the West Africa Trade Hub found in a 2010 study funded by USAID that
"the cost to deliver a container from Tema to Ouagadougou is more than seven times the cost to deliver the same container from Newark to Chicago, a route of roughly equal distance. This is despite the fact that trucker salaries in the USA are roughly 25 times higher. And the trip takes as much as four times longer."
The students were asked to prepare a one page report on why imports are so expensive for extra credit, I'll ask Dr. Armah how they did.
Then the LORD ordered the fish to spit Jonah up on the beach, and it did. Jonah 2:10 (Good News Bible)