What was once a fishing village has now transformed into the port of Tema - Ghana's largest, busiest and most important port, which accounts for 80 percent of the nation's trade. And, like many ports on the continent, this one too is headed for a mega overhaul that will enhance the port's competitiveness as a leading maritime hub in West Africa. Surya Kannoth reports

West Africa's Tema Port is in a state of transformation. The $1.5 billion expansion plan underway at the port will unarguably change Ghana's position in West Africa's maritime industry by effecting an increase in trade flow and improvement in transportation links across West Africa.

Set within the industrial city of Tema and 30 km from the capital city of Ghana, the port's environs serve as a logistic point for activities of Inland Clearance Depots (ICDs), warehouses, transport and haulage companies, freight forwarders, factories and related service centres.

"It has been an exciting time for the port of Tema as we build and grow to meet national and regional demand. We are part way through an exciting long term expansion plan including the construction of a 3.5 teu container terminal and logistics hub. This ambitious project will transform and modernize the port, thus ensuring that we achieve our aim of becoming a regional transhipment hub and leading West African gateway," mentioned Jacob Adorkor, Director, Port of Tema in the Ghana Ports Handbook.

The Tema Port expansion is in response to increasing trade volumes of export goods and imports into the country as well as the growth in global economic activity.

The project is expected to treble Tema Port's current traffic of about 1million TEUs thus allowing the port to accommodate the world's largest container ships, and improve cargo-handling services and capacity. If not for the expansion, Tema Port would have exceeded capacity within the next three years. The fourfold increase in capacity will ultimately translate into significantly reduced handling costs, thus making shipping in Ghana more cost effective and competitive.

The project is also earmarked to bring the benefit of 5,000 more direct jobs, substantial capacity building, new equipment and the requisite technology transfer to the people of Ghana.

"Running a port is not just about infrastructure and facilities, however, is also about providing a good service and maintaining excellent customer relations. We are constantly reminded of the port's role in the economic development of our country and will continue to uphold the very highest standards in our operations to ensure that the Port of Tema remains a place of excellence," Adorkor added.

The upgrade and expansion of Ghana's main seaport involvesa public-private partnership between the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) and Meridian Ports Services (MPS), which is the operator of the container terminal at Tema Port.

MPS is a partnership between GPHA and the Meridian Port Holdings (MPH), which is in turn a joint venture between APM Terminals of the Netherlands and Bolloré Transport & Logistics of France.

In his inaugural speech, President John DramaniMahama said the government's decision had been to position the ports of Ghana as a trade and investment gateway to the West African sub-region.

"The overall economic impact of this project will translate into 400,000 jobs along the logistics chain," he said. "The investment being made would change the dynamics of the country's maritime industry over the next 100 years."

A post on his Facebook page described the Public-Private Partnership between Ghana Ports &Harbours Authority and Meridian Port Services as "one of the finest models of PPP that we have in our country."

American engineering company AECOM will oversee construction of the project for MPS. AECOM will provide design and procurement management services prior to the award of construction contracts. It will then supervise the construction of all of the port expansion facilities. MPS has secured the funding for the project from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, as well as from shareholders. China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) is the marine contractor.

The launch of marine engineering works marked the start of the project, the contract for which was signed between GPHA and MPS in June 2015.

The expanded port will have a 1.4 km quay with four deep berths, equipped with sophisticated container handling gantry cranes and terminal operating systems. Its capacity to accommodate cargo ships will consequently be four times greater than its current capacity. Tema Port will then be able to handle some of the world's biggest container ships, carrying up to 18,000 containers.

The first phase of this project will involve the construction of a breakwater, dredging the entrance channel to accommodate larger ships, building a quay wall and reclaiming the terminal area behind the quay wall.

The newly expanded Tema Port is projected to be fully operational in the fourth quarter of 2019, on completion of the construction works and is one of the largest public private collaborations in Ghana's history.

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