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The Gambia Ports Authority at 50 (1972-2022): Some Milestones

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But the biggest disappointment of Gambians was that when the ferry sank, the Director of Marine was more concerned with locating the ferry cash book, freight receipts and cash box than the whereabouts of the passengers. The Director of Marine wrote a letter to the Accountant General dated 18 May, 1957:

‘I have to report that owing to the fatal Barra Ferry disaster which occurred 9th May, the Cash book and two freight receipt books Nos.2941-29450 and 29501-29550 containing cash transactions for the period of 2 April to 8 May and cash collections in respect of passages and freight for 9 May 1957 are missing and believed sunk’. Gambians felt doubly offended when a British Quartermaster Mr. Cox gave evidence at the Inquiry into the Disaster and blamed the accident on ‘lazy Gambian staff’ of the ferry. Newspapers fired back his insults calling him ‘so-called boat builder and asked for an apology which he refused to give. ‘The precincts of the Royal Victoria Hospital presented a very poignant scene as those rescued were brought in women and children weeping, men shouting nervously. Everyone was anxious to know if a friend or relative was amongst those brought in and if alive. The scene became wilder when the Fire Brigade brought three men apparently dead’, was how a journalist described the scene after the disaster had happened.

Due to the loud grievances of Gambians, the wooden ferry was changed to a metal ferry.

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Kiang Ferry Disaster, 1964

In June 1963, the Kiang ferry linking Bambatenda and Yellitenda sank when a tractor belonging to Dragass Conractors overshot the ramp. The Inquiry concluded that the tractor driver lost control of the tractor and hit strongly the wooden block and as a result the ramp’s lifting mast fell and the tractor fell in the river and the ferry sank also. No lives were lost.

The Inquiry also clarified that ‘the weight of the tractor on the front of the ferry produced such pressure which resulted in water going through the manhole and the ferry sank’. Daragass Company paid 500 Pounds as damages to the Marine Department for the disaster.

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Role of River Transport in Cattle Development and Marketing In The Gambia: MV JARGA

The river transport which has remained a core function of the GPA was seen, and still remains a key index in national growth. The role of the JARGA Boat and MV Fulladu are two examples in the 1950s.

Between the buying and selling of cattle remained the problem of transport. As it stood, the Veterinary department hired the government-owned river steamer MV Fulladu to deliver goods to the colony. The MV Fulladu was far from ideal, for it belonged to a separate department. Even if overloaded with stock, the vessel would “still [have] to stop at every port to collect mail.” senior veterinary officers were convinced that destocking the protectorate using markets was simply impracticable until other river transport was ready. Only the construction of a special cattle craft could ease the rural/urban impasse.  Veterinary officers promoted the transportation of cattle via the river because the river route would “prevent the spread of disease and obviate the hazards of a long trek.” When the department finally issued the preliminary design for a river vessel for cattle in 1952, the blueprint focused on the needs of the cargo for a two-day journey. This included water, to supply four gallons minimum for each beast; fodder, to prevent weight loss; and space, to accommodate fifty full-sized cattle. Construction would take time, but apart from transport, the prospect of brokering a domestic cattle trade seemed good. Cattle owners from the upriver provinces were reportedly eager for the government to start buying bulls, but instead sent their stock directly to Bathurst “through hire for sale” because “they could not wait, owing to need of money.”

Officers in the Veterinary department remained convinced that a boat was necessary to destock the protectorate as a massive supply and ready market defied further improvisation. Through this, a special boat called JARGA was built and commissioned by the Marine Department in 1952.


Exactly one year in operations, the GPA was able to file this generous Activity Report to the Office of the President in 1973:

‘The Gambia Ports Authority commenced operation on 1st July 1972.  It was however not until the latter end of its first quarter that the enabling legislation, the Ports Act, 1972 through Parliament though with retroactive effect to 1st July 1972.  It is on this date that the Authority is deemed to have taken over from Government and became responsible for those Ports, harbor, Dockyard, Ferries, River Services and Maritime functions formerly shared by the Marine Department and other Government Departments.  During the year those functions and services were performed with incident.

The first meeting of the Authority was opened by the Honourable Alhaji Sir Alieu Sulayman Jack, M P, Minister of Works and Communications.  Mr. R Madi was elected Chairman.  Because all the regulations were prepared beforehand for consideration at the meeting, it took the Authority three sittings to complete its work.  The Regulations were duly presented to the Minister and his approval duly obtained.  Three other meetings were held during the year, each of these being completed in one sitting.

In accordance with the plan of activities, the Authority took over full control of all cargo handling operation in the port of Banjul with effect from 1st January 1973.  Plan for this had been going on since the beginning of 1972.  All government and non-government commercial interests and bodies had been appropriately consulted.  The purpose of the take-over being to replace the erstwhile fragmental arrangements where up to six agencies were separately responsible for stevedoring, shore handling and storage and consignees collected incoming goods from the sheds and open storage areas using their own labour, by a scheme to provide unified control of all cargo operations such as would facilitate improved operational, administrative and cost efficiency.  In order to set the scheme on a sound footing and ensure some continuity, the Authority arranged with the shipping agents to transfer to employment those personnel with experience and good in this cargo operations.  These personnel would otherwise become redundant.  As would befall any new venture of this nature several problems have been encountered from the beginning; the major operational problems have been overcome.  However, the most acute problem remains – that of Security (against organized as well as petty pilfering).  This is of course an inherited problem and is a growing one throughout the world.  Although the situation in the port of Banjul can still be considered relatively mild the Authority is giving it full attention and is committing all the competent resource to the dimunities of this problem.  The newly established Security Squad which was formed shortly after the establishment of the Authority and had done good work in securing revenue collected at the major ferry stations and the river service is tackling it.

During the year a significant shortage of Senior Managerial personnel was to be coped with:-

(a)        The Chief Accountant and the two Senior Accounting Officers next below him were recruited from outside Government through advertisement.

(b)       The Chief Security Officer and an additional 30 Security Guards had to be recruited from outside government.

(c)        the present Boat Building Superintendent and One Dockyard Engineer both training overseas were recruited direct.

(d)       The post of Traffic Manager remains vacant.  However, a Gambian who is well qualified for the post has indicated interest and if agreement is reached with him, he would take up appointment in about July/August 1973.

(e)        The vacant post for one Marine officer remains unfilled despite two advertisements overseas.  The post has been advertised.


Apart from in-service training no major programme has been established.  However, the experience and information gathered during the first year of operation have brought out more specifically the standard, requirements and potential of personnel in relation to the requirements for the jobs in the various departments of the Authority.  Where there has been little formal education or even illiteracy, minimum educational levels for new entrants have been introduced hopefully to enable the men to participate more fully in their training.

Development schedules for all jobs in all departments at first for supervisory post, are being worked out and will be established early in the second year.  Assessments and records of the performance of employees are being maintained so as to fit the “right man/or woman in the right job” by objective selection and ability.


The terms of the Credit Agreement between Government and the International Development Association branch of the World Bank for the Port of Banjul Development project required that port tariffs were to be raised:-

(a)        By October 1971, to achieve a 10% increase in revenue.

(b)       By July 1972 to produce an 8% rate of return on net fixed assets in use by the fiscal year 1979.

The 10% increase was made in October 1971.  Port tariffs were thoroughly reviewed in 1972 and the approved adjustment implemented with effect from November 1972.

When the Authority took over cargo handling operations on 1st January 1973 the tariffs introduced were in the main a continuation of the rates charged by the Shipping Agents.

The tariffs for the ferries and River Service (Lady Wright) are the same as these charged by the former Marine Department from 1958.

A complete review of all tariffs for Port, harbour, Ferries, River and Dockyard Services and facilities will be made in the course of the next financial year in order to determine their sufficiency to achieve the objective rate of return.  By the end of it the likely final cost of the Port Development Project would be known and important decisions on investment, in improvement, development or replacement of Fixed Assets such as Ferries, Vessels, Plant Machinery Equipment, jetties and Building taken.


Port Development Project (please see appendix ‘C’)

This project being financed jointly by the Government of the Gambia (17%) and the International Development Association (IDA) – 83% had been originally estimated to cost approximately D7,210,000.  It is programmed that the contribution of the Government of the Gambia which will be mainly in local currency is to be invested in the Authority as Equity while that of the IDA which will be mainly in foreign currency will be loaned to Government who will relent it to the Gambia Ports Authority at the rate of 7% interest on the outstanding balances at the beginning of each year, the Principal to be repaid by the Authority in 20 years.

A British firm A. Maunsell & Partners who carried out the original feasibility study of the project in 1968/69 were retained as Consultant Engineers.  They designed the civil engineering works and are supervising the project.

In accordance with the terms of the Credit Agreement the civil engineering submitted the lowest tender and satisfied all the competent parties of their technical especially to execute the contract.  Work actually started in May 1972 and steady progress has been maintained.  Although the contract period for completion was 24 months from January 1972, the latest best estimate is for June 1974.  Allegedly unforeseen physical difficulties on the ground which might have caused this delay, together with escalation in prices of imported construction materials are likely to have in inflationary effect on the final cost of the project.

Category (5) consists of reclamation in “Area I” in the Admiralty Wharf Area which was included in the main contract and, “Area II” adjacent to the Bund Road.  The latter which will provide an access to the proposed Public Jetty and reclaim building land adjoining it is being executed on a do-it yourself basis – the Public Works Department of the Ministry of Works and Communications doing the civil engineering aspect while the Marine section of the Harbours Department of the Authority operate the dredger for the reclamation.  The total cost of the works at “Area ii” is approximately D151,000.

The Cutter-Suction dredger (category 8) also acquired through international competitive bidding was supplied by R Stokvis & Zonen (Holland).  It was delivered in December 1971.  Having completed reclamation at “Area I” during the second quarter of this year it was moved to “Area II” where it is still engaged.  Work here has been slow due to failure in some of the ancillary material supplied, difficulties in obtain spare parts from suppliers and difficult good conditions in the burrow area where material for reclamation is being dredged.  The matter of obtaining replacements and spare parts from the suppliers is being pursued vigorously and it is hoped soon to resume reclamation.

A Dutch dredger master who accompanied the dredger completed a 12-month tour in December 1972.  He has successfully trained two Gambians who have taken over the operation and maintenance of the dredger.

The largest item in the remainder of Category (8) is the purchase of cargo handling equipment also by international competitive bidding.  There have been ordered and will be delivered about the middle of 1974 in time for use when the new facilities are handed over to the Authority after the completion of the project.

Category (9) is connected with the setting up of the Authority.  Late in 1971 Government appointed a Steering Committee comprising the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Works and Communication’s; the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance; purpose of this Committee being, to supervise the in institutional, financial and staff implication attendant to the transformation from a Government Civil Service type of Department to a Statutory Public Corporation.  Two advisers, one in Port Accounting and the other in Port Operations assisted in this exercise.  That the Authority commenced its operation on Time at 1st July 1972 and the Ports Act 1972 passed through Parliament successfully; highlight the good service of all concerned.  The two advisers continued their work with the Authority throughout this initial year.  The will have completed their 2 year contracts by the end of 1973.

Other Developments

During this first year a determined policy to consolidate and improve on the initial position of the Authority has been pursued.  Therefore, capital expenditure was kept to the minimum required to maintain operations in the activities taken over.  The result has been reasonably better and more advantageous operation of services and facilities and the improved control of the collection of revenue therefrom.  Although the infrastructure at the disposal of the Authority has not been increased the upward trends in throughout and corresponding revenue levels bear out at least some success in the exercise.

In spite of the financial constraints imposed by the IDA Credit and in view of the run down, aged condition of the majority of the Fixed Assets taken over from Government, the Authority finds itself in a situation which necessitates urgent improvements and development in mainly the following areas, the financing of which Government participation will be needed: –

(a) Trans-Gambia Ferry Service

The existing vessels and terminal facilities cannot reasonably be expected to maintain an efficient and reliable service much beyond the present time.  Due to the age of the two remaining vessels (ferries, the inadequacy of the loading ramps (especially that on the South Bank of the river) and the steady increase in the size and number of vehicles, a minimum addition of two vessels need to be commissioned within the next four years.  One within the next twelve months and the second, two to

(b) Banjul-Barra Ferry Service

With the existing wooden craft operated on the service reasonable efficiency and reliability are maintained only with extreme difficulty.  The vessels are small and structurally unsuited to present day demand.  The rapid increase in number of vehicles and passengers as well as prospects of larger vehicles using this comparatively short route necessitate the commissioning of steel craft with greater capacity for carrying vehicles as well as passengers.

Government is already assisting in this area with the cooperation of overseas aid.  Urgent attention must be given to the early acquisition of the new craft and the necessary improvement to the Terminal facilities.

(c)        Lady Wright Replacement

The recently completed feasibility study lists out several options.  Of those the Authority feels strongly that in terms of finance and operations the best solution would be the Replacement Vessel.  Since this service will probably not be profit making initially, Government would be expected to participate in financing its operations and upkeep p in the form of an annual grant.  The existing further increased irrecoverable costs.

(d)       Navigational Aids

A programme to replace expensive steel light floats with plastic buoys which have been proved to be relatively more economical to purchase and maintain and re reliable is already being financed by the Authority, using its own funds.

(c)        The majority of these need urgently to be replaced.  The first stage of a phased programme of improvements will be carried out during the year 1973/74, using the Authority’s own funds.


The Authority was admitted to membership of the Port Management Association of West and Central Africa during its meeting at Accra (Ghana) in March 1973.

Before vesting Day it was realized that in the Gambia Port, Harbour and other Marine activities were operating at a loss and with a considerable ‘invisible’ subsidy from Government.

Throughout the year the Authority has be guided by the objective of carrying out its various activities on a fully economic basis as stipulated in the Port Act and in accordance with the policy of Government.  On account of the deliberately cautious and stringent approach towards capital expenditure, the financial results of the first year’s operations, though modest, may be considered as satisfactory as allowance has been made for depreciation, capital charges, pensions as well as the interest on the amounts disbursed to date on the IDA Credit.

Acknowledgement must be made of the valuable assistance and encouragement given by the Ministry of Works and Communication, the Ministry of Finance and other Government Departments, both before and after the setting up of the Gambia Ports Authority.  Acknowledgement is also due to the cooperation of Shipping and Trading interests.  We highly appreciate the assistance and co-operation of the Honourable the Attorney-General and his staff in the preparation of the Ports 1972.

It must be recorded that little could have been achieved in the first year’s operations of the Gambia Ports Authority without the enthusiastic co-operation and participation of the staff of all grades throughout the under taking.

The memorability of the first year of the Authority was ensured when His Excellency the President, Sir Dawda Jawara, accompanied by the Honourable Minister of Works and Communications officially toured all sections of the Gambia Ports Authority and inspected all services and facilities including the current Port Development Project on 24th December, 1972′.

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