Meridian Port Services Limited – The Hub of New Africa
Meridian Port Services is a joint venture company between Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority and Meridian Port Holdings Limited which is, in turn, a joint venture with Bolloré Transport and Logistics and APM Terminals. In effect this means the company has three shareholders, who started their business by signing a concession in 2004 to build and operate a container terminal in Tema Port, Ghana.
“It was completed in 2007 and commenced business from April that year. We’ve become known as a dynamic modern container terminal that has demonstrated a commitment to innovation and excellence,” explains Mohamed Samara, Meridian Port Services’ CEO. “No other port in the Sub Saharan Region has the technology we deployed at that time. MPS continued to realise its vision and went further to invest in and at various stages upgrading the existing infrastructure. MPS added equipment and capacity, until we realised we needed a bigger port and invested in a mega port which we launched a few days ago.”
Meridian Port Services has already built itself a reputation, which Samara describes as “The commitment to excellence. That’s a major quality we are branded with.”
However, when talking about what sets his company apart, Samara is more inclined to look to the future.
“Many aspects and features influence a good port connectivity and MPS is just about to have them all; the ease of accessibility (Tema Port entrance channel is direct to Atlantic Ocean and not through a creek or river), with 18m MPS is the deepest port in the region, MPS provides a berthing window scheme eliminating the waiting time at anchorage, MPS operates NAVIS N4 Terminal Operating System where the efficiency of well-planned operations delivers high productivity and fast vessel turnaround time..”
That connectivity is paired with an impressive level of capacity, as Samara lays out, “We’re now building a 2 million TEU capacity in a 1 million TEU sized market, and in the same infrastructure we can go up to 3.7 million TEU. We have berth availability with a third berth opening by next February and a fourth in December 2020. With 14 Shipping lines calling at MPS, we have the highest concentration of shipping lines in the region. All but two shipping line have weekly services calling at Tema Port. The number of shipping lines and frequency of calls arriving with highest throughput per vessel call are the optimal criteria for making MPS Terminal 3 the first port of call and a hub for West Coast of Africa; and with all of that that comes the connectivity to all regional ports and beyond .”
This forward-looking approach is ever more critical as the entire continent of Africa is changing, thanks to the African Continent Free Trade Agreement.
“The Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will open up huge horizons,” Samara says. “We will be part of the new African single market, so we have now this massive task ahead of us to transform our ports from serving 30 million Ghanaians into serving 1.3 billion African people. We’re no longer operating in a single country, we’re a port serving an area that has USD 3 trillion GDP, so the future is looking different! And we’re ready to be the hub for the entire continent and beyond.”
MPS is at the vanguard of this new trading environment.
“Few weeks ago, Ghana was selected to host the headquarters of the AfCFTA. Certainly, they’re not setting us up to be a guinea pig as such, but because we are in an advanced stage of Socio-economic development, we are going to be the leader in many areas of business” Samara says.
With this cutting-edge port facility, Meridian Port Services is making Ghana recognised as a major maritime hub and the most efficient one-stop port services centre in the region and the rest of Africa. It will be a game changer and Ghana is ready to compete to be the hub for the continent and beyond.
Life on the Cutting Edge
Changing the game is what Meridian Port Services is all about, with innovation and the application of new technologies being cornerstones of their strategy.
“We’re constantly looking for ways to improve, ways to move the goods and invest in technology,” Samara says. “We also work with the authorities, we need to safeguard and secure the borders, and the revenue collection at these borders. Today we don’t have a man looking at the containers checking the condition of the containers, we have high definition cameras, scanning it from the outside. We have optical character recognition to read the containers.”
Of course, working on the cutting edge in this way brings challenges of its own.
“Technical support is always a challenge in an emerging market,” Samara admits. “Ghana is a market where technical support can be difficult to come by. If you’re in Hamburg it’s all right outside your door, Siemens is around the corner, but in our case we’re far away from good support when it comes to technical help or spare parts.”
This is a problem Meridian Port Services overcomes through a combination of strong partnerships and homegrown talent.
“We partner with the best service providers. We encourage our service providers, manufacturers and their agents to come and set up shop in Ghana to support Ghana and the region, and support other businesses,” Samara says. “But most importantly we pump a lot of training into our staff. Certainly the most important thing is to boost the talent within the company. We can’t always rely on someone to fly in to help us, and we’ve come a long way in building our own talent pool.”
Indeed, building Meridian Port Services’ own talent pool is a task Samara takes very seriously. As he tells us, “We are in a specialised profession in ports and shipping. It’s not something commonly taught in the average university. But a lot of the job and knowledge is training on-the-job, not something you can teach in academic education. We have a couple of programmes where we take young engineers on an internship, and have them for a year or two to work with us and then offer them a job. Ghanaian managers who had started at MPS as trainees or port officers a few years ago are today in a position of senior management.”
While there is much to do in terms of skills and infrastructure, Samara has good reason to believe Ghana is the ideal place to take advantage of the new African single market.
“Ghana is a stable democracy. We have three former presidents with a sitting president sitting in the same country moving freely, so that in itself speaks to how stable and politically mature it is,” he says. “What we think is going to happen is a lot of companies are going to come and plug into this hub. We’ll see more industries coming into Ghana, to distribute to the various countries in the region, so we’ll see a big industrial boost, and this is really something to look at because I’m sure a lot of people want to set up in Africa and reach out to our huge consumer base, so we’re optimistic.”
To take advantage of these coming opportunities, Meridian Port Services has seen some exciting expansions this year. MPS Terminal 3 opened up its port operations in June, working with Meridian Port Services’ partner APM to obtain EDGE certification, the only internationally recognised green building standard. This certification consists of three elements- a cloud-based application, a results-based green building standard and a robust certification system.
Meanwhile their new container terminal, MPS Terminal 3 has just docked its very first commercial vessel following a three-year expansion and modernisation project. During the docking MPS’s state-of-the-art technology was able to discharge 1,427 containers and load another 730 containers.
The vessel itself, the Maersk Cape Coast, is unique. The ship was inaugurated and christened at the port of Tema in 2011. Eight years after the Tema port played a critical role in the history of that ship, it was returned to play an important part in the history of the Tema port.
At the arrival of the vessel Samara said, “I was there in 2011 and I remember very well that day. What a symbolic coincidence! I hope that this will bring as much luck to our new terminal and team as the ship has had over the past eight years.”
The vessel marked the completion of 36 months of works on the infrastructure of the port, followed by intensive testing of the new equipment and paperless processes, alongside intensive training for the port’s staff.
As of the end of June the new Terminal 3’s first two berths have been declared “ready for operations”, reaching the first implementation milestone of Meridian Port Services Tema Port expansion project. On the day the berths were declared operational Meridian’s management and board directors gathered the workers, contractors, customs workers and the representatives of Ghana Port and Harbour Authority and handed over the symbolic key to the port’s operations team, representing the initial phase of the facility’s construction.
Samara has had nothing but praise for the construction and transition teams that oversaw the process of building the port and transferring Meridian Port Services’ existing business to the new location.
“I congratulate the transition team,” he said. “The new terminal is about upgrading our port to match up international standards. This terminal is a sophisticated terminal loaded with technology and some of the world’s most advanced equipment to harvest efficiency. This project still remains a part of the Ghana Port Master plan and we are glad that the whole team put our heads together and our hands on the table to realise this engineering masterpiece today. I wish the operations team the best of success because the engineering team has done its job, it is now the turn of the operations team to operate it as attractively as possible to make it the number one container terminal in terms of volume, cargo throughput in the sub region. The challenge is for us to stand tall as the leading transhipment hub in the years to come.”
The expansion is far from complete however, and there is still a great deal more work for Meridian Port Services and their partners to do. By February of next year they are currently planning to deliver the third berth of the port, which will be four months ahead of schedule. Beyond that, by the end of 2020 Meridian Port Services plan to have completed building the fourth berth. When the entire expansion is finally completed, 1.4 kilometres of new quay will have been constructed to handle vessels up to 16 metres draft, across a development area of 127 hectares.
This terminal is the very first of its kind in West Africa. It establishes the very kind of connectivity that Samara has been talking about, helping to stimulate Ghana’s trade and industry by plugging Ghana’s economy into far wider regional and even global markets. The benefits, prosperity, jobs and business that will spawn from this development alone will be seen for many generations to come.
“The key of this new Terminal has in fact been handed over to all Ghanaians, as this new terminal will contribute to make them thrive,” Samara says.