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Feeder king

01 Mar 2007
In for the long-haul:MSC has shown its commitment to Mauritius pushing four services through Port Louis

In for the long-haul:MSC has shown its commitment to Mauritius pushing four services through Port Louis

Port Louis continues to draw in the main shipping players, but it is not complacent as Alex Hughes finds out

Mauritius' Port Louis is the largest container handling facility in the Indian Ocean; and significantly one of only two ports in sub-Saharan Africa that can accommodate fourth and fifth generation container vessels (Cape Town being the other).

This feat is thanks to a recent dredging programme, which increased the draught from 13.1m to 14.5m. In December 2006 and January 2007, three such vessels had already called at Mauritius Container Terminal (MCT).

In 2006, total container traffic amounted to 266,425 teu, compared with 253,772 teu in 2005, up 4.9%."We view prospects for 2007 as promising," notes port authority acting director-general, Shekur Suntah, noting that increases in traffic dating from July 2006 look set to continue. Significantly, transhipment traffic of 93,192 teu last year, represented growth of 13.9%. However, the 173,233 teu of import/export boxes was up just 0.7%.

The number of boxes rotated in and out by sea increased markedly following contracts signed with Maersk, MSC and P&O Nedlloyd in 2002. Maersk and MSC now use Port Louis to feeder boxes out to Toamasina,Mahajunga, Longoni,Mutsamudu and Port Victoria on neighbouring islands such as Madagascar, Mayotte and the Seychelles.

This influx of new traffic initially over-stretched existing equipment capacity, as well as putting stress on both quay and yard space. This adversely affected productivity, slowed vessel turnaround times and resulted in increasing delays from 2003.

However, corrective measures have been taken by both the Mauritius Ports Authority and Cargo Handling Corporation.Stacking capacity at MCT has already been doubled to accommodate both existing and future growth,while two additional quayside gantry canes are due for delivery in September, which will boost annual throughput capacity from 350,000 teu to 550,000 teu.

"We have also put in place a floating berthing window scheme since August 2004, which has resulted in significant reduction in pre-berthing delay and improved vessel turnaround time,"says Mr Suntah. Nevertheless, productivity of 16.9 moves per gross crane hour in December 2006 was not great, although still an improvement on the 16.4 moves achieved in December 2005. Despite this, MSC still pushes four services through Port Louis, Maersk three and CMA CGM two, with Delmas and Mitsui OSK contributing a further two each and Deutsche Afrika Linien, Pacific International Lines and UAFL one each.

While Mr Suntah acknowledges the "footloose" nature of transhipment boxes, significant investment has been made in infrastructure and equipment as a means of retaining this long term. However, the strategic location of Mauritius does also make it an attractive option for shipping lines, he notes.

"Transhipment is carried out in a competitive environment with regional rivals all touting for this traffic. For transhipment to be profitable, a port has to make appropriate investment strategies, combined with continuously improving service levels, while competitive tariffs have to be in place," he stresses, pointing out that Mauritius is a way-port not a destination port, therefore making it even more  difficult to capture this optional traffic.

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Feeder king

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