By Akanimo Sampson
Morocco, Egypt and South Africa have left Nigeria far behind as countries in Africa with best-connected sea ports. In West Africa, where Nigeria is the big brother, the region has relatively low connectivity because it does not lie at the crossroads of major North-South or East-West shipping routes.
These facts are contained in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) port Liner Shipping Connectivity Index (port LSCI). The index which now provides data on more than 900 ports dating back to 2006, is generated using the same methodology as that for the recently released country-level LSCI produced by UNCTAD in collaboration with MDSTransmodal.
The 2019 port LSCI shows that the expanded Panama Canal has led to shifts in patterns of services.
The data also indicates that the LSCI of New York/New Jersey and Savannah on the east coast of North America grew by more than 20% since 2016, while the leading ports on the west coast saw their LSCI stagnate.
The data further reveals that investments by shipping lines can attract additional services. Piraeus (Greece), operated by COSCO from China, for example, has become the best-connected port in the Mediterranean in 2019.
Though in Africa, both geography and port reforms emerged as critical factors, the best-connected countries in the continent are those at its corners – Morocco, Egypt and South Africa.
Mombasa (Kenya) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) connect Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda to overseas markets through dedicated corridors, but they remain highly congested.
Low connectivity makes merchandise trade costly and uncompetitive. Many small island developing states (SIDS) face a vicious cycle where low trade volumes discourage investments in better maritime transport connectivity.
The Pacific Islands are among those with the lowest shipping connectivity. For example, Port Vila (Vanuatu) receives about one container ship every three days, the data shows.
In Kiribati, there is only one operator offering regular liner shipping services, with one ship arriving about every 10 days.
However, the Shanghai port has topped UNCTAD’s 2019 ranking of the world’s best-connected ports, released on August 7.The Chinese port garnered a connectivity score of 134 points, followed by the ports of Singapore (124.63 points), Pusan (114.45 points) in Korea and Ningbo (114.35 points), also in China. The index is set at 100 for the best-connected port in 2006, which was Hong Kong, China.
Besides the Asian ports, the other ports on the top 10 list are those of Antwerp (94 points) in Belgium and Rotterdam (93 points) in the Netherlands. None of the ports in the top 20 list are from Africa, Latin America, North America or Australasia.
UNCTAD’s Director of Technology and Logistics, Shamika N. Sirimanne, said ‘’a container port’s performance is a critical factor that can determine transport costs and, by extension, trade competitiveness. Efficient and well-connected container ports enabled by frequent and direct shipping services are key to minimising trade costs and fostering sustainable development.’’
The UNCTAD port LSCI dataset enables businesses and governments to determine maritime transport trends and their ports’ positions compared to others, and besides the new datasets measuring liner shipping connectivity, the UN agency also releasednew data on port calls and turnaround time in the global container ports, in collaboration with MarineTraffic.
The data shows that containerships have the lowest turnaround times. In 2018, a ship spent a median time of 23.5 hours in ports.
Dry bulk carriers typically spent just over two days during a port call, while container ships spent the least amount of time – less than a day.
UNCTAD’s Chief of Transport, Frida Youssef, said ‘’a shorter time in port is a positive indicator that could partly signal the level of port efficiency and trade competitiveness. The economies with the fastest turnaround times are the advanced ones with large volumes or small ones that handle low cargo volumes at each port call.’’
According to the data, the bottom 10 countries are all developing countries or least developed countries. However, a longer time spent in port does not necessarily mean that the port is less efficient, as owners of ships may choose to have them stay longer in a port to purchase goods or services.
According to Ms. Youssef, countries with more port calls have lower turnaround times. ‘’A port with a faster turnaround can accommodate a larger number of port calls with the same number of berths.’’
While such a port is also more attractive to shippers and carriers, Ms. Youssef said, so the number of port calls will be higher compared to a competing port that has a lower turnaround time, these latest datasets complement other maritime statistics and indicatorsprovided by UNCTAD to measure the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.