Port congestion an inconvenience for business

The congestion issue at the international Matautu wharf continues to cause inconvenience for business such as cargo fleets docking at port as well as other operational works at the site. 

At the moment, shipping cargos cannot dock at the wharf when a cruise ship is in the country for a day, due to the limited space at the port. 

The cargo ships would have to berth at the harbour until the cruise ship departs. 

In an interview with the Minister of Works Transport and Infrastructure, Papali’i Niko Lee Hang, said the limited space at the Matautu port is inconvenient to ongoing works and to shipping lines. 

Some of the affected operations, he pointed out, includes the Samoa Submarine Cable (SSC). The ship has to go out to the harbour when cargo ships arrive at the port. 

According to the Samoa Ports Authority (SPA) Annual Report for year ended June 2017, the SSC works to build warehouse on port to assist in facilitation of all cable equipment and accessories could take up around 5,000 square meters of on port land by 2018. 

While the cable company has made an arrangement with SPA, in terms of vacating the port when cargo ships arrive, Papali’i said sometimes it is inconvenient to their ongoing work. 

“Our port is really small especially when we have a cruise ship coming in,” he said. 

“The cruise ship is always given the priority because of tourists coming to see our country. When the cruise is on island it takes up the whole port and all cargo ships have to berth at the harbour until the cruise leaves which is usually here for a day. 

“So there is always that arrangement when a cruise enters the country other fleets have to vacate the port. That is the ongoing problem with our small port.”

It was just last year that the $80 million expansion of the port was completed and funded by the Project of Enhancement of Safety of Apia Port, which was funded under the Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA). Such improvement to the port include the extension of the new berth to 103 meters. 

According to Papali’i, despite the new expansion, the Matautu port needs to be improved to boost economic development for the country. 

He explained with the extension it means the port can now have two cargo ships docked there as opposed to one. 

It is all more reasons why the Government is pushing for a new international port at Vaiusu Bay. 

Speaking about the Vaiusu Bay plans, the Minister said surveys are still being conducted for the area to ensure the environment is not affected. 

He added there is also the need to find a grant to fund the proposed international port facility. 

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi has in the past, expressed the need to develop and relocate the international port to Vaiusu, to account for growing port demand of the future. 

Concerns by Tuilaepa dates back almost 10 years where he said the current port at Matautu is already meeting its limitations with nowhere to expand the wharf to and container hold.

At the time he said it will also be ideal in relocating petroleum tanks from Matautu. 

“This is a project that can take effect immediately and take up to ten years to build,” he said. 

“If Apia is to feature as the future international shipping hub of the Pacific region, this is the sort of forward-thinking we ought to adopt now. Matautu Port is already heavily congested. 

“We had a couple of cruise ships in port last week and one cruise ship completely covered the Matautu Wharf from end to end. 

“Looking ahead, we need a port that can accommodate fifty to a hundred ships at once.”

A Technical Assistant Report on the Ports Development Master Plan from the Asian Development Bank, which is dated April 2015, states that an “improved port infrastructure will improve connectivity and boost economic development and poverty reduction”. 

The report points out that Samoa is at risk from the effects of climate change and geophysical hazards, which will affect maritime transport infrastructure.

 “A 2010 World Bank study estimated the present economic value of damage through 2050 resulting from climate change in the absence of additional adaptive measures to be US$104 million to US$212 million over the same period in Samoa,” stated the ADB report.

“A study conducted by the Pacific Regional Infrastructure Facility recommended that Samoa Port Authority's financial position be improved by (i) reducing its debt through a short-term subsidy from the government and sale of non-revenue-generating assets, (ii) reviewing tariffs through benchmarking against other Pacific ports and adjusting container storage charges, (iii) recommending reforms to enable full private sector participation in port services, (iv) increasing land and property rentals, (v) reducing fixed and variable costs through organizational restructuring, and (vi) preparing a ports master plan.”

According to the report, the Government has also identified as a priority the development of a proposed new port at a green-field site at Vaiusu Bay. 

The Government has also entered into preliminary agreements with private tuna processing companies to occupy the existing container yard and warehouse space at Matautu Port for tuna loining.

“The construction of new tuna processing plants will limit the container yard space, which could impact the port’s container throughout and port productivity. Moreover, the introduction of tuna processing could lead to berth congestion, as fishing vessels occupy the port’s berthing facilities to discharge their catch.” 

The Technical Assistance from ADB is estimated to cost US$550,000 (WST$1.4 million), of which US$500,000 (WST$1.3 million) will be financed on a grant basis by the Asian Development Bank's Technical Assistance Special Fund. 

The Government will provide counterpart support in the form of counterpart staff, office accommodation, and other in-kind contributions the report added.  

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