Walvis Bay container terminal opens

17 Aug 2019

Terry Hutson

© Provided by Independent Media WHAT the cruise terminal at Walvis Bay will look like when complete.

Durban - AN IMPORTANT development on the West Coast earlier this month was the official opening of the port of Walvis Bay’s new container terminal.

This has been building over several years on a large sandbank that lay opposite the old harbour, this latter being made up of a long, straight piece of quayside within the natural bay or inlet that forms the harbour.

Walvis Bay is positioned on one side by the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean, fed by the Benguela Current streaming northwards from the southern oceans, and on the other by the sands of the Namib Desert.

The history of Walvis Bay as a harbour dates back to 1878, when it was officially established, but its history involving shipping dates back much further. “Discovered” by European navigators in 1487, when Bartolomeu Dias named it Golfo de Saint Maria da Conceição, it appeared on the first maps drawn by German Henricus Martellus as Praia dos Sardinha (Sardine Coast).

The Portuguese soon returned to the name given by Dias for the inlet, and it was they who in the 16th century renamed it Bahia das Bahleas for the whales that frequented its calm waters during the migrations north and south.

The harbour and enclave was annexed by the British in 1884, partly to prevent the potential port from falling into the hands of the Germans who were involving themselves in the region of today's Namibia. Walvis Bay thus became a part of the Cape Colony, and was later incorporated into the Union and subsequently Republic of South Africa - a fact that took the Americans by surprise when they became involved in negotiating for the handover of South West Africa to the UN prior to independence.

Since taking independence, Namibia has done well in developing the port, and not only to service Namibia's foreign trade requirements.

The young country pioneered the idea of transport corridors across southern Africa, and is marketing the port of Walvis Bay as a gateway into southern and central Africa.

The Trans-Caprivi Corridor is one that has met with significant success, in which the countries of Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are encouraged to ship their cargo in or out via Walvis Bay and the Trans-Caprivi Corridor - the corridor involving road transport, although long-term a railway connection with Zambia at the Caprivi border is envisaged.

It’s with the cross-border trade in mind that Namport, the company that operates and manages the ports of Walvis Bay and Luderitz, began planning the construction and development of not only a new container terminal, but a new cruise terminal. Walvis Bay has become a favourite destination for cruise ships rounding the Cape, including the cruise companies whose ships spend time on the southern African coast each summer - such as MSC, Silversea and Hapag-Lloyd.

Even more ambitiously, Namport plans to develop a new deeper-water port immediately to the north of the existing one, to cater for liquid bulk and dry bulk commodities. The first phase of storage is already under way, involving a fuel jetty with storage tanks. The area allocated to the north port covers more than 1400 hectares.

But what of the new container terminal, which was opened on August2? Facing the old port, it has increased the capacity for container handling at Walvis Bay by more than double, from 350000 to 750000 TEUs.

Occupying 40ha of reclaimed land and with a deep-water quayside, much larger ships are now able to come alongside, firmly placing Walvis Bay on the container world map.

As regards the corridor concept, many of these containers will not be for Namibia but for Botswana, and even South Africa (Trans-Kalahari Corridor), Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and the DRC (Trans-Caprivi), southern Angola (Trans-Cunene) and South Africa (Trans-Oranje).

One of the marketing ideas being used to promote Walvis Bay is that it is southern Africa’s closest port to Europe and to North and South America, of importance for urgent cargoes.

Unsurprisingly, the new terminal was developed mainly by China Harbour Engineering Company, whose representative said at the function to mark the opening that while the company has participated in more than 100 projects across 90 countries, the Walvis Bay container terminal had been one of the most challenging.

Included among these challenges was the very soft soil that presented unique problems, and the underwater hydrogen sulphide gases that “tricked” the project - although the presence of these gases has been known since the days when South Africa administered the port of Walvis Bay. More than one ship’s crew has been overcome by these gases, which suddenly bubble up out of the waters of Walvis Bay.

Nevertheless the construction of the terminal, including new quays and much reclamation of land from the sea, went off successfully with more than 2000 people working on the project over 5 million man-hours and without any lost time owing to injury.

The equivalent of more than R2.1billion was spent in the local economy.

Terry Hutson keeps a beady eye on shipping activities, but particularly those related to Africa and South Africa. For shipping activities, news and schedules please contact him on 0823315775, email terryh@mweb.co.za or visit the website www.africaports.co.za for ships in port and other maritime-related data.

- The Mercury




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