by Adam Hartman
SEA Rail (Botswana) (Pty) Ltd is a Namibian-registered company that operates the 'Botswana dry port' facility adjacent to Namport at Walvis Bay, and its mission is to handle cargo for all SADC countries, especially to Botswana's landlocked neighbours.
The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Botswana Railways. Its location enables the dry port to capture a large portion of SADC imports and exports that come through Walvis Bay.
Commodities which are imported or exported from Botswana through the west coast will therefore form a large percentage of the potential dry port's market.
“We aspire to be the leading provider of transport and logistics' solutions for importers and exporters globally. That is by providing efficient, safe and cost-effective port services to our clients,” said Sea Rail dry port manager Derick Mokgatle.
The dry port was established as a strategic infrastructure project on a long-term basis for an alternative route to less congested sea ports on the Atlantic coast. One of the key objectives was to have a dedicated facility for staging Botswana-bound import or export cargo. This is meant to improve efficiency of logistics for trade in Botswana.
Sea Rail's objectives are to integrate Botswana and the SADC region with the Walvis Bay port; to consolidate individual or unsynchronised container flows to and from Botswana; to reduce total transport and logistics costs, as well as journey time; and to stimulate Botswana's growing economy by creating appropriate infrastructure, processes and a supportive regulatory environment to encourage international trade. The 36 233m2 port offers container and breakbulk handling with a capacity of 17 000 containers annually, vehicle handling with a capacity of 3 600 vehicles annually, and general warehousing space, as well as the potential to develop specialised warehousing to be able to handle a combined 80 000 tonnes. The dry port is also designed to have a cold storage facility with the potential capacity of handling 10 000 tonnes.
The reason why Namibia's location is so important for Botswana, according to Mokgatle, is because Walvis Bay is a less congested port compared to other ports in the region.
“It is efficient, secure and it is quicker to take goods into Botswana through this route. One of Sea Rail's objectives is diversifying port routes for Botswana's strategic commodities,” he said, adding that Botswana has also been using the regional ports of South Africa and Mozambique – the bigger volumes mostly going through South Africa.
Plans are still in progress regarding the long-awaited multibillion dollar TransKalahari railway line to be constructed between Botswana and Namibia.
The two countries' governments already signed a bilateral agreement for the project in March 2014, paving the way for the facilitation and construction of a completely new 'heavy haul' railway line stretching 1 500 kilometres from landlocked Botswana's Mmamabula coal fields to the port of Walvis Bay.
Sea Rail's greatest challenge is diverting traffic from the traditional routes within the region to Walvis Bay. It is expected to take some time for cargo owners and their agents to like the idea of Walvis Bay as an alternative port.
Activity at the dry port has been rather low to date, but Mokgatle believes that Sea Rail's targeted marketing efforts towards those who move volumes will start bearing fruits in the short to medium term. He is also optimistic about the future since Sea Rail is expecting its own equipment to be in place by June. The equipment will assist the company to attract more business, and enable it to be efficient in providing services to its clients. The equipment includes a reach stacker, side-lifter trailer, truck tractor and a forklift.
“We pride ourselves in having achieved the milestone of developing a state-of-the-art dry port facility, and established our footprint at Walvis Bay so far. We do have a good product to sell, and it gives us leverage in attracting clientele. The second phase of the development is procuring equipment and building a warehouse, as well as putting up a reefer station. These developments will increase accessibility to the facility, and make it a one-stop-shop for all types of cargo,” he said.