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The port of Djibouti is congested with over 20 vessels carrying mainly Ethiopian fertilizer, grains and general cargos, Capital learnt.

Earlier in 2016, being aware of the drought caused by Elnino, Djibouti Port officials were informing Ethiopian authorities of the necessity to anticipate and prepare sufficient truck fleet to uplift all expected bulk vessels, according to the port officials at Djibouti.

“At this moment, lack of sufficient trucks for transporting dry bulk cargo and disorganized arrival of vessels at the port are the main reasons behind the current situation at the Port of Djibouti SA (PDSA). Although Djibouti Port is equipped with specialized bulk Terminal which handles cargo with latest equipment such as sucking machines, bagging lines capable to dispatch 21,000MT a day,” said officials.

Several meetings had been held regularly between Ethiopian and Djiboutian officials to address the issue, with the port’s authority going as far as allowing cargo vessels to berth in areas set aside for navy operations. The Port Authority received a prioritization program which is vessels at the port carrying critical cargo such as wheat to feed drought affected populations and fertilizer.

Djibouti port officers told Capital that about 12 vessels at the anchorage are carrying grain for Ethiopia, while Ethiopian officials say that only a few of those are for emergency aid. Other bulk vessels being for commercial wheat.

Two weeks ago, a high level delegation from Ethiopia, led by Mekonnen Abera, Director General of Maritime Affairs Authority (MAA), which under Ministry of Transport, and with attendance of Mesfin Tefera, Deputy CEO of Ethiopian Shipping and Logistics Services Enterprises visited Djibouti and met with PDSA officials to discuss and come up with solutions for the issue.

Saad Omar Guelleh, General Manager of PDSA, told Capital that his office is working closely with Ethiopian offices based in Djibouti and Addis Ababa to address the current situation.
“We disclosed our concern to Ethiopian logistics offices, and ensured Ethiopian trucks focus on aid and fertilizer cargo, rather than other cargo,” Saad Omar Guelleh said.

Port officials also confirmed that Ethiopian demands have been met with the prioritization of critical cargo. “Even we have dedicated six berths for the bulk shipment of grain and fertilizer cargos (4 berths where ships can each perform more than 5,000mt per day),” port officials said.

Citing lack of harmonization of vessel arrivals at the port as another concern, Saad Omar Guelleh said, “The government should also direct private transport companies to focus on designated emergency cargo,” furthermore Saad Omar Guelleh confirms that PDSA prepared warehouses free of charges to support priority cargo.

At discussions held on March 13, between port officials and Ethiopian maritime delegates, port officials claimed that Ethiopian trucks are not working effectively to receive and deliver the grain and fertilizer cargo off vessels, sources in attendance told Capital.

Port officials also stated vessels’ arrival at the port needs to be better coordinated by the Ethiopian side. Disorganized arrival of vessels is considered as a major factor for vessel congestion. A port official told Capital, more than five vessels have arrived within a single day.

The mobilization of trucks in the private and public sectors has been put forward from the Djiboutian side as a possible solution to ease congestion.

“We have a lot of cargo at Djibouti. On six berths vessels are uplifted their cargo and additional up 17 vessels are on anchorage. Previously, we have been fleeted up 9,000tones per day, which is increased to 13,000, but it is not sufficient because we have more than one million tons of bulk and general cargo at the port,” Workneh Gebeyehu (PhD), Minister of Transport, told Capital.

Mekonnen told Capital that the Ethiopian government is working attentively to mobilize trucks and uplifting priority cargo, “Since recently discussions with port officials, there is significant progress in terms of operations at the port. We have already mobilized public and private trucks,” he told Capital.

Trucks assigned delivery of food aid and fertilizer cargo are now a fleet of 300 on average and will be expanded, according to the general manager of MAA. He added that the greater fleet can now transport up to 16,000 tons of cargo a day, up from the former maximum of 12,000 tons.

“The problem is the truck; we have totally 9,000 trucks that assigned to the port cargo, but we need up to 13,000 trucks to accelerate the fleet,” Workneh explained.

“To solve the trucks shortage we have now assigned trucks who engaged in side the country,” he added. According to the Minister, the ministry has also mobilized private companies such as MIDROC and Dangote, and military trucks.

“We have also on the process to add trucks from Sudan to engage on the fleet,” he said.
According to the maritime authority’s head, three fertilizer vessels left the berths by Wednesday March 23 and now only one fertilizer vessel waiting at the anchorage. There are a few aid cargo vessels among the twelve in the port, with most carrying Ethiopian Grain Trade Enterprise’s trade cargo.

Workneh said that currently up to 780 trucks uplifts cargo from the port per day. “We have targeted to increase the number of trucks to 1140 per day. The upcoming trucks from private companies and military in addition with the trucks from in Sudan will meet our target to increase the number of trucks,” he added.

The other issue is to increase the number of days of the trucks fleet to the port. Currently, the maximum fleet of trucks to Djibouti is three times a week, but the government has targeted to expand the number of fleet up to five times a week.

He accepted that there is lack of coordination in terms of vessels arrival. In the beginning of the year we have been designed how many vessels arrive at the port, but the current emergency issue forced as to go behind our plan,” Workneh said. He said that the general cargos like edible oil and others are also basic needs for the public that have to transport on time in the country.

“But we are strongly working to manage the current crisis,” he added.

The other agenda raised at the meeting between the two bodies was the transportation of aid cargo via the recently built diesel railway line, which will later be electrified. According to information obtained by Capital, 1,200 tons of grain is being transported by rail every three days, but the Ethiopian Railway Corporation should increase this effort, according to Djibouti’s port officials.

The Djiboutian sides have demanded uplifting capacity to reach 5,000mt per day per vessel, from the current 3,000mt contractual uplift rate from consignee and transport companies.
MAA’s general manager, however, has declined the proposal citing that such a rate is not practical given some of the berths’ small depth and width.

“It is a theoretical capacity, if it was practically designed capacity, we would have been glad to accept because we can solve our problem within a short period. But it is impossible,” he explained.
As the concerned authorities from both countries’ sides look to solve the problem, trade cargo vessels carrying with steel, coal and other commodities remain stranded at the anchorage, according to officials in Ethiopia.

“Both fertilizer and aid cargo are humanitarian,” says Mekonnen and he adds that despite the high costs to the country – this cargo will continue to be prioritized over general cargo.

eanwhile, the Ethiopian state owned transit operator has disclosed a temporarily block on transportation of all steel cargo to facilitate the emergency cargo’s delivery.

Both authorities agreed the urgent necessity to mobilize truck fleet to uplift all arrived and expected priority cargo. The Djiboutian authorities have shown willingness to support Ethiopian authorities in emergency efforts. Authorities have offered to facilitate warehouses at the port in order to improve vessels’ operations and mitigate the current situation’s effect on the Port of Djibouti’s image.