Chinese construction firm China Harbour Engineering Co Ltd has commenced construction of the $962-million second terminal at the Ivory Coast port city of Abidjan. The project will increase the port’s annual container handling capacity to more than 2 million containers from the current 800,000 containers.

French logistics firm Bollore Group’s subsidiary Bollore Africa Logistics and APM Terminals have a 21-year contract to operate and manage the new container terminal, which is expected to be in operation by January 2018. The earlier government dismissed an appeal by another consortium led by CMA CGM SA seeking to overturn the contract over alleged irregularities in the tendering process.

The consortium comprising ICTS Inc., CMA CGM unit Terminal Link, NCT Necotrans and Movis CI. Bollore and APM Terminals joint venture Société d’Exploitation du Terminal de Vridi (SETV) is the sole operator of the port’s existing 600,000-container terminal.

State-owned Abidjan Ports Authority will be responsible for dredging and expanding the 2700-meter-long Vridi Canal, completed in 1950, that connects the sea and the Ebrié lagoon. The canal is currently 370 m wide with a draft of 13.5 m. The Authority will also carry out land reclamation for the expansion of superstructures and construct a 1,100-m-long quay with a depth alongside of 18 m, able to accommodate vessels of up to 350 m long. It will also construct a 37.5-hectare yard.

Bollore and APM Terminals will manage $436 million to procure container-handling equipment, install information systems, erect superstructure works, finish the container yard and train personnel.

The expansion works will enable the port to handle ships big enough to carry 8,500 twenty-foot equivalent units (teu), up from the current 3,500-teu limit.

China is providing 85% of the total project cost.

“The main driver behind the project is the increasing volumes [of] containers through the port of Abidjan that are expected to grow beyond the capacity of the current terminal,” said Soren Sjostrand Jakobsen, APM Terminals’ Head of Port Investments & Portfolio Management.

“There is also need for the port to accommodate large container vessels that are being deployed on the West African trade route,” he said.

 “We are seeing the shipping lines have started to deploy very large container vessels on the trades to/from West Africa that need deep water facilities and modern terminals able to handle them with much higher productivity.” He attributed the growth to increasing trade in West Africa and lower slot cost for the services.

The current restrictions for the Abidjan port are overall length of 250 m and a draft of 11.5 m.

“However, the largest vessel calling today is 261.5 meters long, while the canal has a water depth of 13.5 meters,” he said.

Once the expansion project is completed in 2018, the port will accommodate vessels of more than 350 m in length, and with a wider and deeper canal, says Jakobsen, "there will effectively not be any draft restrictions.” Both CHEC and Abidjan Ports Authority did not respond to request for information on amount of material to be dredged and the extent of the deepened canal.

Jakobsen says Abidjan’s expansion is not likely to take away business from other West African ports. The objective of the project instead is to make the port ”more capable and competitive to attract some cargo for the hinterland which today may move through other ports,” he says. “We do not see that cargo will be taken away from other ports to any significant degree.”

 “However, with a more capable and competitive port, the cost of transport will reduce, help to fuel trade growth and attract more trans-shipment cargo as the port will be quite suitable as a trans-shipment point.”

APM Terminals operates terminals in Angola, Namibia, Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Morocco and Egypt.