The Gambia Ports Authority (GPA) was created in 1972, alongside four parastatals to respond to the need for greater state participation in the economic life of Gambians and fill the vacuum left by the departure of European companies like United Africa Company, UAC. The departure of the European companies meant that there was an urgent need for such parastatals for economic independence. The newly created statutory bodies included Gambia Utilities Corporation, Gambia Commercial and Development Bank and National Trading Company.
But 50 years on, of these parastatals, only the GPA remains intact in its original form and mandate, and still growing strong.
“I believe that is a good cause for celebration,” Gambian historian Hassoum Ceesay said.
On the other hand, the Marine Department was created in 1909 to handle marine and dockyard needs of the country. The marine functions included registration and licensing of the fleet of river craft that plied the river, and foreign ships that docked. The dockyard tended to repairing ships and other vessels.
At this time, each of the major European firms such as Vezia, Palmine, Barthez, VQ Petersen and CFAO had their own docks to handle their fleet of river craft and also to handle ships bringing goods or taking exports like groundnuts.
“This is why there was centralised porterage; each firm or a group of firms ran their own wharves. Thus, there were the likes of CFAO docks, Vezia docks, and Palmine docks et cetera, strewn along the Bathurst shore,” Ceesay explained.
Baboucarr Sallah, a sea pilot and captain was entrusted to put the newly created ports to work.
The board soon got to work and a few days later published the Ports (Dues and Rates) Regulations which set the tariffs. It took the authority board three sittings to complete the work on the regulations.
On 30 December 1972, the Ports Authority announced that it was taking over all master porterage and stevedoring for all ships bringing bulk or reporting for loading on or after 1 January 1973.
In order to set the scheme on a sound footing and ensure some continuity, the GPA arranged at the end of 1972 for the various shipping agencies like Elder Dempster to transfer to GPA employment of all their qualified and experienced staff in cargo operations.
“If this was not done, these staff would be jobless as the GPA was now the sole handler of cargo. This was indeed a foresightful and humane move by the board,” Hassoum Ceesay said.
The GPA commenced operations on 1 July 1972. It was however not until the latter end of its first quarter that the enabling legislation, the Gambia Ports Authority Act or simply the Ports Act was passed by parliament.
Read more on the GPA series on tomorrow.