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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

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

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Researched by Hassoum Ceesay

Preamble       

In 1972, five parastatals were created by The Gambia Government to respond to the need for greater state participation in the economic life of our new Republic. The departure of many European companies like UAC from the country also, meant that there was urgent need for such parastatals for economic independence. These new statutory bodies included The Gambia Utilities Corporation, The Gambia Commercial and Development Bank, The Gambia National Trading Corporation and The Gambia Ports Authority (GPA). Fifty years after, of these parastatals, only the GPA remains intact in its original form and mandate, still going strong. I believe that is good cause for celebration.

Early Days

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The Marine Department was created in 1909 to handle marine and dockyard needs of the country. The marine functions included registration and license of the fleet of river craft that plied the River, and foreign ships that docked. The dockyard functions were repairs to shipping and other vessels.

At this time, each of the major European firms such as Vezia, Palmine, Barthez, VQ Petersen, CFAO and so on had their own docks to handle their fleet of river craft and also to handle ships bringing goods or exports like groundnuts. This is why there was centralized porterage; each firm or groups of firms ran their own wharves. Thus, there were the likes of CFAO docks, Vezia docks and Palmine docks strewn along the Bathurst shore.

Following the achievement of independence in 1965, there was noticeable increase in trade volumes at the docks, as all restrictions on import and export imposed by colonial rule were now removed. This made Government to think of developing the ports facilities just as it was keen on developing Yundum airport to International standard.

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When The Gambia joined the World Bank in 1967, Government made it a priority to get funding for the development of the ports facilities.  In 1971, The World Bank gave The Gambia a loan of 8 million dalasi to undertake the First Phase of the Port expansion. By April, 1972, it was reported in the local press that ‘work on the first phase of the Port Expansion project is continuing satisfactorily. Three engineers of the Contractors Balfour Betty, supervised by two consultant engineers of G. Maunsell and Partners are currently setting out levels for the berth and the Port shed. A total of D7.5 million have been budgeted for the First Phase, which is financed in part by the World Bank and partly by The Gambia Government’.

At the time, this was the biggest infrastructure project undertaken in The Gambia. It received the full attention of The Government with President Jawara and his Works Minister making frequent site inspection visits to monitor progress.

Meanwhile, the government was at the same time working on effecting an institutional reset. It started in 1971 to turn the Marine Department into a fully-fledged corporation with full authority to handle all port matters. The Government decided to make the legal framework and The Gambia Ports Authority Act was passed in March 1972, a few days before Parliament was dissolved for the forthcoming General Elections. At this time also, there was a lot of search for talent to head the new Ports Corporation. Luckily, there was a highly qualified Gambian in the name of Sea Captain Baboucarr Sallah.

 (1937-), who became a sea pilot and captain. He was among the first African students to study at the Ghana Nautical College. After graduation in 1962, Sallah was employed by the Black Star Shipping Lines (echoes of Marcus Garvey’s great, albeit, short-lived project) as the second West African to hold the rank of Master in a deep-sea sailing vessel, eventually becoming captain of the Black Star Line ship the ‘MV Prah River’. His fellow compatriot, Captain Momodou Camara, also another Gambian with similar accomplishment from training received in Ghana. Their work in promoting Nkrumah’s desire to have the Black Star Lines embody the Pan-African Personality in international shipping is significant. As well, a significant portion of the technical staff of the Gambia Ports Authority received their training at the West African Maritime Training College that succeeded the Ghana Nautical College. Sallah was interviewed by the Establishment Office and in May 1972 was appointed First General Manager.

Captain Sallah soon got to work to put the newly created Gambia Ports Authority to work. The technical staff at the former Marine Department were simply re-hired by the new Board and continuity was ensured. In July 1972, the Ports Board was inaugurated. In October 1972, Captain Sallah took part in the Ports Management Conference for West African maritime Countries, in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The main objective of the Conference was to facilitate collaboration between the Ports managements in the West African coast with a view to developing joint action where appropriate on a variety of

subjects of direct interest to shipping and ports. Through his participation at this conference, The Gambia became a foundation member of the Ports Management Association for West and Central Africa. Other members of this pioneer body of ports authorities in Africa were Benin, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone. The Secretariat was to be located in Nigeria. Indeed, Captain Sallah was upbeat about the role of the new sub-regional ports management outfit: he told reporters upon his return that the Association would be of practical value to member states individually and collectively. The Association would ensure the standardization of such things as equipment, operational methods and training.

In November 1972, The Gambia Ports Authority Board elected Robert Madi as the first Chairman. He was elected by his colleagues at the Board’s first meeting on Friday 7 November 1972. After his election, the new Minister of Works Alhaji Sir Alieu Jack spoke at length on the reasons why Government created the Ports Authority and how Government envisioned the Port’s role in national development.

‘If the utilities operated by Government were to pay their way and cease to be heavily subsidized, it was imperative that they had to be hived off and established as corporate bodies with commercial bias. The Ports Authority will operate a master porterage scheme with responsibility for stevedoring and associated cargo handling functions. The Ports Authority is eventually meant to provide a public service, though it is true that profitability was and will remain the yardstick for measuring their efficiency. It is not necessarily the case that profit is the objective but rather a reasonable amount of profit with a satisfactory service to the public. The viability of the Ports Authority is of course, an absolute necessity in view of the initial huge investments in the Ports project and the need to meet amortization and service charges’.

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 breaking bulk or reporting for loading on or after 1 January 1973. The GPA now required prescribed Delivery Order and shipping note sets in respect of any cargo discharged from or loaded into ships. The shore handling rates which were published in the Gazette included provision of labour, mechanical handling equipment for loading, delivery and shipment and no other payments should be made to shipping agents.

It was also stated that the GPA was recruiting a permanent labour force of dock workers as a first step in the decasualization of the dock labour force.

Full consultation was done with all relevant Government departments such as Department of Labour, and what was left of the European trading forms like UAC. The GPA explained to the stakeholders that the decision to take over master porterage and stevedoring and all cargo handling operations was meant to replace the erstwhile fragmental arrangements where there were up to six agencies each separately responsible for stevedoring, shore handling and storage and consignees collected incoming goods from the sheds and open storage areas using their own labour. The scheme to centralize all controls under the GPA therefore brought sanity and security in the Ports operations. It also reduced cost and brought in efficiency.

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 all those of 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.

But as early as January 1973 as the new arrangements were been tested, pilfering became common. There was organized and petty pilfering of cargo. To combat pilfering, a Security Squad was formed to tackle this menace.

After 12 months of operations in July 1973, the GPA was able to hire a Chief Accountant through advertisement, Chief Security Officer, Boat Building Superintendent, Dock Yard Engineer. But there were vacancies for Traffic Manager and Marine Officer.

In 1973, the Board established an in-house training programme for the new staff. The Board also established certain ground rules that henceforth there was to be minimum requirements for employment so that illiterate staff would not be encouraged. The Board also established assessment and records of the performance of each staff ‘so as to fit the right man/woman in the right job’ by objective selection and ability.

In terms of the Credit Agreement between the World Bank and The Gambia Government for the Ports Development Project, there was a requirement for the tariffs to be raised as follows:

By October 1972, to achieve a 10 percent increase in revenue; by July 1973 to produce 8 per cent rate of return on net fixed assets. When the GPA took over cargo handling operation on January 1st 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) were the same as those charged by the Former Marine Department in 1958!

In order to show satisfaction for the first anniversary of the GPA, President Jawara accompanied by the Minister of Works officially toured all sections of the GPA and inspected all services and facilities including the ongoing works at the Ports Development Project.

In summary, The GPA commenced operations on July 1, 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 through Parliament.

From July 1972 therefore, the GPA took over from the Marine Department and became responsible for Ports, Harbours, Dockyard, Ferries, River Services and the maritime functions formerly shared by the Marine Department and other Government departments.

Banjul Second Port Development Project, 1979: Background

By 1979, the Government Wharf, built in 1953, was in serious need of repairs. It had one berth for ocean going vessels and was the main commercial port for the country. By 1980, more than 25 per cent of the dry cargo throughput of Port of Banjul passed the Government Wharf in addition to the total export of groundnut oil. Inspectors from the Danish Hydraulic Institute wrote an inspection Report dated March 1980 and wrote that the ‘vital structures were cracked, fendering is missing, the berthing face is battered and broken and at the running surface the concrete has spalled resulting in local depression and exposed reinforcement’.

The Report further stated that the visual inspection of the supporting beams, pile heads and soffit of the deck and the running surface revealed deterioration of the structure to an extent which resulted in a letter dated November 10, 1979, from the Consultant Port Consult to the MD of GPA recommending that the live load applied to the structure was reduced to 80 per cent of the design live load which is believe to be 1t/m2 and that concentrated loads were only applied directly over the top of the piles., Further the consultant recommended that in certain areas only light, unloaded vehicles are allowed to pass.

‘The Consultants concluded in

the inspection report as follows:

1.         In 31 major areas concrete has broken away from the running surface and left 30-60mm deep depressions, some of which have exposed the reinforcement.  

2.         No protective timbers and fenders as originally designed remain at the seaward berthing face and the southern part of the inner berthing.

3.         At the seaward berthing face none of the fender brackets are intact. Except for one or two, the lower half or the whole bracket is missing.

4.         At the seaward berthing face up to 0.5m of the edge of the deck slab has broken off and extensive spalling extends approximately 1m behind the original edge.

5.         Minor and some serious cracking was observed in 53 out of the 76 pile heads.

6.         Mainly serious cracking was observed in 11 situ joints between pairs of piles out of 30.

7.         In 43 precast beams out of 100, minor to serious longitudinal and transverse cracking has been observed.

8.         At the South-East corner approximately 10m2 of deck slab has been pulled out because of excessive pull in a bollard.

These damages have been caused by three factors: Wear and tear, corrosion and overloading.

The wear and tear is mainly responsible for the damages to the running surface and may also have caused the initial deterioration of the fender timbers.

The longitudinal cracking of beams and in-situ joints has no doubt been caused by the corrosion and subsequent expansion of the steel reinforcement.

The transverse cracking of beams is believed to have been caused by the application of excessive vertical lads while the transverse cracking in-situ joints and the breaking off the deck slab along the seaward berthing face no doubt have been caused by the ships’ impact.

The cracking of the pile heads seems also associated with overloading, possibly from lateral forces.

Bearing in mind the structure received extensive concrete repairs as late as 1973, it is disappointing to see the many cracks caused by corrosion and in particular the cracks which were observed in repaired beams.

If no action is taken the wharf will continue to deteriorate, and probably at a progressive rate. This is because the corroded steel reinforcement results in reduced bearing capacity and the many cracks have impaired the structure’s integrity and therefore the influence of loads and impacts will concentrate at members which are still intact and possibly overload these.

It is very difficult to estimate the remaining life of the wharf if no action is taken. There is no quantitative basis for providing such an estimate. However, as mentioned above there is evidence that the deterioration will continue and will accelerate. It could therefore be assumed that the damages which have developed during the 6-7 years since 1973 will have doubled for another 4-5 years which is in 1983/84. With the double amount of damages once could imagine that the structure of the wharf would have reached a state of repair which could make it necessary to declare that it is unsafe and should be taken out of service. A gradual reduction of the permissible loads during the next 4-5 years would not be unlikely’.

The wharf which is the subject of the inspection report above was built in 1953 and consisted of 12.2 m wide and 88.4 m long T-head jetty and a 48.8m long access bridge supported by 82 hollow, cylindrical, precast concrete piles driven to approximately level -20 under the jetty itself. The above quoted inspection report therefore made it clear that by 1980, the wharf of the GPA was in bad shape and needed urgent action. This is how the 2nd Port project came into being.

The Gambia River Wharves Development project 1980-1983

Partly because of the inspection report quoted above, and also because of the desire to revive the wharves infrastructure along the River, from 1980 to 1983 the GPA and Ministry of Works hired Luiz Dias De Losada Contactors to undertake major refurbishment of wharves at Banjul, Albreda, Kuntaur, Georgetown, Basse and Fatoto at the cost of D3 million.

Bathurst-Barra Ferry Disaster, 1957

On 9th May 1957, 59 passengers died when the wooden Bathurst-Barra ferry called METTA sank in its last trip from Barra. It was 22 metres long and and 5 metres wide, with capacity of 33 tons. The ferry became waterlogged, and the pumping machine was defective. As panic ensued, the cattle, cargo and human beings were thrown overboard by the gushing waters. Vehicles, passengers and cattle were rolled over side. The ferry sank at 18:15 and was only retrieved by 2300 hours.

By the next day bodies were being washed off as far as Jinack Point. It was a sad day in Gambian maritime history.

The Commission of inquiry found out that there was utter negligence on the part of the Marine Department. The ferry’s unseaworthiness had been carried in the newspapers many times but because no Europeans used the ferry, the British had a private boat to move them from Bathurst to Barra, there was no care. The wooden ferry was drawing water and had to be emptied three times in one journey. Also, there were life jackets, and the Inquiry also found out that it was overloaded.

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