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Maximising the potential of Freetown’s Port

The Port of Freetown is Sierra Leone’s main trading gateway with the world, accounting for 98% of our imports. As part of the President’s Recovery Priorities’ focus on governance, it is enhancing its systems and infrastructure with an eye to a streamlined, transparent and more efficient service for national and international shippers.

Freetown’s Port has the third deepest natural harbour in the world, and the deepest in West Africa. Its unique location is almost equidistant from Brazil’s busiest port – the Port of Santos, and from Europe’s busiest port - the Port of Rotterdam. Geographically, it is also ideally placed to potentially service landlocked countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso.

Maximising these untapped natural advantages could make Sierra Leone’s primary port an ideal transhipment hub, according to the Ports Authority’s General Manager, Abu B. Bangura. Transhipment allows for larger ships with lower shipping costs per unit, to be loaded and unloaded to and from smaller vessels, serving ports not equipped to accommodate bigger ships.

“The transhipment of containers has become a feature of the logistics of intercontinental liner services and has created a new and rapidly growing maritime industry with economic spin-offs, including job creation,” AB Bangura says. “We are fortunate that the geographical location and physical attributes of the Port of Freetown could favour this sort of development.”

Today, the landlord port model dominates especially in larger and medium-sized ports around the world, with Rotterdam, Antwerp, Tangier and New York as examples. Sierra Leone began moving to the landlord port model and increasing private participation in 2010.

As part of this process, Bolloré Africa Logistics won a 25-year concession to operate the container terminal. The company is now investing in the construction of a seventh berth which will be completed in 2018, and will accommodate deep sea vessels. The bulk and break bulk operations are operated by both Bolloré Africa Logistics and the UK based Nectar Group. Nectar’s improved facilities for discharging bulk cargoes include new equipment, improved security and a comprehensive management system.

The Port of Freetown has been ranked among the top two in West Africa for dwell time since 2014, and was recently ranked first in the first quarter of 2016. About 80% of containers are cleared within five days upon discharge at the quay. Nevertheless, taking into account the potential for increased trade flow and reduced costs, the President’s Delivery Team is helping the Sierra Leone Ports Authority further enhance process efficiency to improve the experience of customers when clearing goods from the port.

Jeanette Rose, Sector Coordinator – Governance, with the President’s Delivery Team, explains: “A robust customer outreach mechanism which includes the introduction of a Single Window will increase transparency and efficiency. The Governance team is supporting the design and implementation of these as part of the President’s Recovery Priorities, reflecting the political support behind the process.”

Electronic Single Windows have become the norm in ports around the world. In EU member states, ports were obliged to implement them by June 2015 and stop accepting paper forms. The new World Trade Organisation Trade Facilitation Agreement also encourages member states to introduce Single Windows. They benefit importers and exporters by simplifying and demystifying processes, improving coordination between agencies, enhancing transparency, reducing the time and cost of doing business and reducing the compliance burden.

Introducing the Single Window is a challenging project, which entails strategic planning and effective use of IT, financial and human resources. “The collaborative and consultative process includes customer needs’ analyses and regular stakeholder meetings to ensure information exchange and joint project ownership,” says Jeanette Rose.

“Furthermore a technical committee co-chaired by the National Revenue Authority and the Sierra Leone Ports Authority has been set up to review lessons learned from the region and submit recommendations.”

The President’s Recovery Priorities process is complementing these investments with the complete rehabilitation of the Port’s Main Exit Road which will decongest port traffic and increase security and safety for customers.

“Changes in the shipping world are swinging our way and the growth of African and South American economies and trade creates exciting opportunities,” says AB Bangura. “We have made it our mandate to ensure streamlined and transparent trading processes for stakeholders, maximising the economic and geographic advantages of the Port of Freetown.”

Former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair visits the Freetown Port

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