Diversification is key to regional success

The Port of Cape Town, South Africa, continues to attract the bulk of the region’s oil & gas clients, but as marketing executive Paula Giusti writes, Trade Ocean is taking note of port developments in Walvis Bay, Namibia, that could make it an important logistics and service base in the future

The multinational ships’ agency Trade Ocean currently operates in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Saldanha Bay and Walvis Bay. Bogdan Kotchoubei, the company’s Namibian manager, said: “We hope that the expansion projects that are currently underway in the Port of Walvis Bay will attract larger numbers of oil fleet vessels operating in neighbouring countries to use the Namibian port as a repair, maintenance and supply base.”

In the current market, however, the impact of the low oil price is still a major influencer, and something that has caused a dramatic decline of oil & gas-related work for the company. Paula Giusti, Trade Ocean’s marketing executive, confirmed a decrease of some 75 per cent in the servicing of vessels from this sector between 2014 and 2015.

According to Kotchoubei, the strategy going forward is to develop offerings to the oil & gas sectors outside of the Port of Cape Town, which will help diversify Trade Ocean’s client base in the medium to long term. Kotchoubei said: “Infrastructure development in the Port of Walvis Bay is likely to increase the number of oil rigs stopping in the port during transit to their respective destinations in the future.”

Currently, however, the Port of Cape Town continues to attract offshore vessels and rigs transiting to and from West Africa. Giusti said that although challenges exist to accommodate the vessels, the port offers dry docking and quayside facilities. In addition, local engineering firms operating within the port are well-versed in providing maintenance as well as survey services; and the current rate of exchange makes it an attractive destination.

Giusti cautioned, however, that this is not the only reason a client would choose to use a South African port.

“Port efficiency and available draft remain important factors for attracting port users,” she explained. “The South African government’s recently launched Operation Phakisa initiative also aims to identify and improve maritime-related infrastructure for economic development. The offshore oil & gas sector is key to this initiative and the Port of Cape Town has been earmarked as an important hub to support Phakisa’s ambitions to grow the local ship repair, shipbuilding and oil & gas sectors.”

In addition to initiatives in Cape Town, Operation Phakisa is driving developments in Saldanha Bay that include the establishment of an Industrial Development Zone (IDZ) as well as an offshore supply base. Aggressive timelines have been set by Transnet National Ports Authority and government.

Giusti added that, given efforts by many African governments to develop other ports on the continent, Operation Phakisa is welltimed and that the South African maritime industry is cautiously optimistic about its ability to deliver.

“Many other African ports in Ghana, Mauritius and Namibia are being developed and could become significant competitors to Cape Town and other South African ports,” she said, emphasising the urgency felt by the local industry.

Offering a full range of services and supplies, Trade Ocean has been fortunate enough during the economic downturn to continue to experience overall growth.

“Our staff remain our competitive advantage in the market,” Giusti said, explaining that a multicultural team enables them to communicate better with, and deliver a personalised service to, a diverse client base.