Speaking this September during the A.P. Moller-Maersk Group’s Capital Markets Day, Kim Fejfer, chief executive officer of APM Terminals, said his division was “in a strong position in a fundamentally attractive industry,” even though it faces challenging market conditions.
The company has set the goal to become the leading port developer and operator by 2020, and one of the ways it plans to do this is by reaching new markets and customers through expansion.
APM Terminals has a strategy of active portfolio management, divesting itself of some slow-growth businesses—including few facilities in the United States—and securing new investment opportunities in growth markets.
Since 2010 this has included a number of new projects in West Africa, such as Cotonou, Benin (2010); Freeport of Monrovia, Liberia (2011); Abidjan, Ivory Coast (2013); Namibe, Angola (2014); and Tema, Ghana (2015).
APM Terminals now has a total of 10 ports in West Africa, including APM Terminals in Apapa, Nigeria, which handled 700,000 TEUs in 2014, making it the busiest port in the region.
In June, APM Terminals announced the $1.5 billion joint venture project in Tema, Ghana, where it will partner with Bolloré Africa Logistics and the Ghana Ports and Harbour Authority to build a 3.5 million-TEU port and logistics hub.
While much smaller, Freeport in Monrovia is of major importance to a country that has been ravaged by civil war and more recently by a deadly Ebola outbreak.
APM Terminals, which won a 25-year concession agreement to develop, operate and eventually turnover to Freeport in Monrovia, took over the port operations on Feb. 1, 2011. It was APM Terminals’ first 100 percent-owned facility in Africa. The company estimates the Monrovia terminal handles more than 90 percent of Liberia’s import cargo.
George Adjei, managing director of APM Terminals’ operation in Liberia, traveled to New York in September to speak at a forum to encourage trade and investment in the country, a program that also featured Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
“APM Terminals has been successful in setting up in Liberia and we are quite happy,” Adjei said. “We would want to encourage other potential investors to take this step and invest in Liberia.”
APM Terminals has rebuilt the port which now has a 600-meter quay and 18 hectares (44.5 acres) of land.
The terminal can handle ships with maximum draft of 11 meters or about 36 feet, and handles both containerships and general cargo vessels.
Adjei joined the A.P. Moller Maersk Group in 2005 in Ghana, where he was born, after studying at Erasmus University and working in the Port of Rotterdam at another company for 13 years. In 2008 he was made general manager of the container inland services division of Maersk Line which managed inland container depots and tracking and logistics operations in Ghana, and from 2012-2014 he was managing director of APM Terminals Ghana.
In 2014 Adjei moved westward along the African coast and became managing director of APM Terminals Liberia, where he said his tenure has been “exciting and challenging at the same time. Exciting because it was a new opportunity for me, but challenging because of the Ebola crisis that was raging at the time.”
When APM Terminals took over a quay built in the 1940s at Freeport in Monrovia it was near collapse, having seen little refurbishment in 70 years and further degraded by the 14-year civil war in Liberia.
As part of the agreement, APM Terminals committed to refurbishing the quay within a period of three years, but accomplished the task in two and a half years, at a cost of $50 million.
The quay is long enough to accommodate “two reasonably large vessels and a smaller vessel, like a fish vessel,” Adjei said.
The port sees a mixture of both container and general cargo ships carrying products such as bagged rice, clinker, bagged cement, and construction materials.
With five liner companies calling the port today—Maersk Line, PIL, MSC, CMA CGM and Grimaldi, Freeport in Monrovia sees about seven ships each week, five container vessels (the Grimaldi ship carries both roll-on/roll-off cargo and containers) and two general cargo vessels. The port also sees about one petroleum product tanker a week, and while APM Terminals does not have a tank terminal, it does provide pilotage and towing for those ships.
The port does not have its own container cranes, with ships relying on their onboard gear to load and discharge containers or other cargoes. “Plans are afoot to invest in quay cranes at some point in the future,” Adjei said.
Last year, the port handled about 79,000 TEUs and upwards of 800,000 metric tons of general cargo, with the expectation this year to handle about 100,000 TEUs and 1 million metric tons of general cargo.
About half a percent of the population of Liberia, which the U.S. Census Bureau estimates at 4.2 million, lives in and around Monrovia. So, most of the cargo moving into the port is consumed in that vicinity.
Most of the containers are taken to nearby warehouses to be unstuffed. “The large distribution centers are all within the proximity of the port,” Adjei said.
Operating the port in the midst of a deadly epidemic was a major challenge. The World Health Organization estimates 4,806 people died during the outbreak and 10,666 were infected with Ebola.
“Our first priority as management was to ensure that all our staff and their relatives are safe. So we quickly put in place protocols that would help prevent our staff from contracting the virus,” Adjei said. “Because of all the hard work that went into this, none of our staff was affected by the virus and none of their relatives. We were able to sail through it unscathed, and that was very good news.”
This included 234 permanent staff, 300 sub-contractors, and their families.
Each employee had his or her temperature checked as they entered the port. APM Terminals also provided chlorine solutions for employees to wash their hands before gaining access to the port.
Any employee with a high temperature was denied access to the port until the employee was cleared of possible contraction of the Ebola virus. And if an employee for one reason or another came into contact with an Ebola case, he or she was barred from entering the port for 21 days.
“We had 17 such cases, but none of them was found to have contracted the disease or the virus,” Adjei said.
He noted Liberia was officially declared Ebola free sometime in May and there was a slight resurgence of the virus shortly thereafter that affected a handful of people. It was managed, and Adjei said on Sept. 4 the country was declared Ebola free again. The World Health Organization declares a country free of the disease if no further cases are detected for 42 days.
APM Terminals also provided the government with 100 isolation huts in which patients could be treated as part of its support for fighting Ebola.
“It underscores the fact that we are not only concerned with our staff and our facility, but we look beyond our fence to see what we can do for the community,” Adjei said.
He said the Liberian economy “is reeling from low commodity prices” for products such as iron ore, rubber, and wood products, and “the economy is suffering as a result.”
“But going forward we believe this is cyclical and at some point we expect the commodity prices to come back up again, hopefully when demand starts increasing in countries like China,” Adjei said.
“We expect growth to start again sometime in 2016,” he added, noting some ongoing investment projects that were stalled as a result of the Ebola outbreak which are now remobilizing and companies rebuilding their local stocks.
The port is mainly import-oriented, so many containers are shipped out of Liberia empty. The import containers carry a lot of general consumer products, such electronics, clothing and food.
Infrastructure projects are also generating cargo.
These include a $34.5 million investment at the port itself—development of a new office building, gates and systems to manage containers. Work at the Monrovia terminal is expected to be completed in 2017.
There are a number of road projects to population centers and mines underway that are mainly being built by various Chinese companies, Adjei said. One key road, for example, will link Monrovia to the southeastern part of Guinea.
Cargo is also being generated by Golden Veroleum, a firm that’s building infrastructure for the production and export of palm oil.
Adjei said APM Terminals is also looking to aggressively pursue opportunities to feed cargo to ports in southern Liberia and other nearby countries.
He said in Liberia APM Terminals is considering operating a multi-port in a location east of Monrovia, called Greenville, where Golden Veroleum and some forest product producers are located.
“We are looking at the potential volumes and, based on that, a decision will be taken as to the scale we would go into Greenville,” he said.
This article was published in the December 2015 issue of American Shipper.