Equatorial Guinea aims to double its port capacity and turn the tiny oil-rich nation into a shipping hub and the Dubai of Africa by investing billions of dollars in its harbours, a senior official said yesterday.
Reuters says security is a concern in the surrounding Gulf of Guinea, which has seen an upsurge in attacks on ships and oil rigs, but Malabo and Bata ports can become central to trade in West and Central Africa, ports chief Alberto Ndong Obiang Lima said.
The port developments are part of a broader infrastructure makeover the former Spanish colony has launched to ensure its oil- and gas-fuelled bonanza, which began in the mid 1990s, is not followed by a sharp downturn when resources run out.
“We want to double the volume to 1,200 ships that come in (to Malabo) each year. We are looking at a capacity of about 40,000 containers,” Lima, the managing director of Equatorial Guinea’s ports, told Reuters.
The project will cost around $2 billion, and is due to be completed in 2011, he said.
“We don’t just want goods for this country, we want goods in transit for the rest of the zone. They can drop things here and we can play the role of distributor,” Lima said.
Moroccan workers in Malabo, the capital and a former small cocoa port on the island of Boiko, are reclaiming land to extend and build new quays to turn the port into a container hub big enough to accommodate the Panamax vessels that carry much of the world’s bulk commodities.
Lima said Malabo would compete with Abidjan in Ivory Coast and Douala in Cameroon, key regional ports.
The five-year project in Bata, on the mainland, is due to start this June and will be carried out by the China Road and Bridge Corporation. Lima did not give a cost for the Bata project, which will centre around a 2 km jetty into the sea.
“The government has spent this much money as they know that the oil will have its limits. The port will then support us,” Lima said as dockers unloaded cement in Malabo.
Piracy is a growing problem in African shipping lanes.
The highest profile attacks have been launched off the east coast, while gunmen operating in nearby Nigeria’s Niger Delta have raided oil platforms and ships.
Last month, gunmen suspected to have come from the Delta swept into Malabo port and attached the presidential palace that overlooks it before they were repelled by security forces, backed by helicopter gunships.
Many companies were concerned about the attack, Lima said, but he had reassurances from the country’s navy it would escort ships through their waters.
“We need to negotiate with the companies to persuade them that their goods will be safe and move on quickly,” he said.
Even before piracy emerged as a concern for shippers, Equatorial Guinea faced years of instability, with foreign mercenaries caught trying to mount a coup in 2004, and accusations of abuse and corruption constantly levelled against its leaders.
But the government says the charges are outdated and the country is advancing, citing as proof its use of oil and gas revenues to revamp infrastructure and diversify the economy.
“Many people, especially foreigners, say Equatorial Guinea is becoming the Dubai of Central Africa. I think it is true – look at the investments and construction,” Lima said in the port compound, where Egyptian and Moroccan workers toiled in the sun.