Meridian Port Services Ltd – The Hub of a New Africa

Meridian Port Services Limited is a joint venture that has introduced innovative new ways of cargo handling, but their entire trade environment is about to change.

Meridian Port Services Limited 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 as the two main shareholders. In effect, this means the company has three shareholders, who started their business by signing a concession in 2004 to start a container terminal in 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 ports had the technology we deployed at that time. MPS continued to realise its vision and went further to invest in and at various stages upgrade the existing infrastructure. MPS added equipment and capacity until we realised we needed a bigger port and invested in a mega port which was launched in June 2019.”

Meridian Port Services Limited has already built itself a reputation, which Samara describes as “The commitment to excellence and innovation. That’s a major quality we are branded with.”

However, when talking about what sets the company apart, Samara is more inclined to look to the future.

“Our unique selling point looking into the future is our connectivity. MPS is bringing this as a new dimension to the West African coast and even beyond,” he says. “What it takes to have that connectivity is that we’re connected directly to the Atlantic Ocean, we have accessibility, deep water- we’re the deepest port in the region. We have a short working time. Within a short window when ships come, we take them on arrival, like an airport, we have no waiting times, we have the efficiency of planning, an operating system where we get 3D plans of the vessel and immediately put together a plan of load and discharge. We have excellent efficiency when it comes to executing our planning and operation, leading to higher productivity.”

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 fourth opening up in 2021. We have the highest frequency of shipping lines. Every shipping line has a weekly service, with two or three services every week. This makes us the first port of discharge. This creates the opportunity for us to become the hub for West Africa, creating connectivity to all the ports in the region.”

This forward-looking approach is ever more critical as the entire continent of Africa is changing, thanks to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.

“The African Continental Free Trade Agreement will open up huge horizons,” Samara says. “We will have a single market, so we have now this massive task ahead of us to transform our ports from 30 million people into serving 1.3 billion African people. We’re no longer operating in a small country, we’re a port serving an area that has 3 trillion GDP, so the future is looking different! And we’re ready to be the hub for the entire continent and beyond.”

Meridian Port Services Limited is at the vanguard of this new trading environment.

“Certainly, they’re setting us up to be, not a guinea pig as such because we’re a fully developed business, but we’re going to be the leader in many areas,” Samara says. “With this port, we have just built, Meridian Port Services Limited is really being pushed as a hub. It will be a game-changer.”

Life on the Cutting Edge

Changing the game is what Meridian Port Services Limited 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 do not 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 are in Hamburg it is 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. 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.”

While there’s 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.”

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