West Africa Container Terminals – A New Gateway

West Africa Container Terminals is offering a new gateway into Nigeria’s economy.

West Africa Container Terminals is a 100-person facility owned by APM Terminals, in the ports and terminals division of the Maersk Group. Located in the oil and gas free zone in Rivers State, in the Southern part of Nigeria, the facility was established at the turn of the century, building on Maersk’s long history in the region.

Despite having the backing of the international Maersk Group behind it, West Africa Container Terminals began from relatively humble beginnings.

“In 2000 we started from a very smallish team doing set-up to handle Maersk ships in the Eastern part of Nigeria,” says Naved Zafar, Managing Director of the firm. “From there we gradually grew the core staff, not just developing the company and the terminal business but also developing a pivotal role for the entire Eastern Nigerian market. We are offering an alternative and additional gateway to the Nigerian business and trading community.”

From the beginning, West Africa Container Terminals’ facility was aptly positioned as an alternative to the Lagos port terminal’s structure, which has often been under pressure from supply chain and infrastructure-related challenges. It was a great position to grow from.

“It has been a great story since our inception,” Zafar tells us. “We started with one shipping line, then took on additional shipping lines as new companies came over. A major expansion plan was put in place in 2018 when we started modernising our terminal facility by bringing in mobile crates to improve efficiency and capacity. We also took part in a major upgrade, transformation, and expansion of our facility.”

Key components of the project include an additional ten hectares being added to the site, a brand-new yard, and the deployment of additional terminal cranes that will forever change the way cargo is handled inside the yard. The business is investing $112 million into civil works and expansion, new cranes and upgraded equipment. And it could not have come at a better time.

“It was a major milestone,” Zafar says. “Until last year we were the only major terminal operator in the region with only two small basic competitors. Last year another company started their operations near our facility. So, we have focussed on efficiency and digitalisation, which has really become a key differentiator.”

A Strong Legacy, An Evolving Offering

West Africa Container Terminal differentiates itself from this new competition with its long history and strong legacy.

“We started here from scratch. There was no container market here 20 years back,” Zafar tells us. “We played a key role in developing this market. We have been working hand-to-hand with all our key customers, cleaning agents, and forwarding agents, facilitating their use of the port.”

It is a role Zafar intends for West Africa Container Terminals to continue to play. From an operational point of view, the facility’s new upgrade has provided much greater capacity, with four mobile cranes and the fifth one on its way.

“With five cranes across two quays our productivity and time to move containers are much faster compared to anyone else in the entire region,” Zafar says. “Ships do not make money while they are in port. Their job is to move from port to port and it costs the entire supply chain if they stay longer on the quay than necessary.”

As well as building capacity and efficiency, West Africa Container Terminals is improving its digital offering to further empower its stakeholders.

“When it comes to handling customers, we are very advanced. 24/7 our handling is online and digital, supporting customers in seamless handling,” Zafar says. “We have also provided office facilities to our shipping line customers on site, to create smooth interactions.”

West Africa Container Terminals is adding to this with its pilot Container Freight Station Project, to support customers in the agriculture sector. Nigeria has a strong offering of agricultural products, but in the past has been frequently let down by the supply chain.

“This region produces a lot of agricultural commodities, but supply chain issues make it hard to export them,” Zafar says. “We felt that we could support these producers by facilitating that.”

Filling the Gaps

Zafar is no stranger to deficiencies in infrastructure, and it is one of the things that drives him to ensure West Africa Container Terminals is a reliable and sophisticated gateway to the East Nigerian economy.

“It is an area that has been somewhat neglected by various successive governments, even though it is generating revenue for the country, there is no investment here,” Zafar tells us. “There are bad roads and a lot of infrastructure challenges. Our staff have to commute every day and can be stuck for hours in congestion, which all has a major impact on our business. The region also faces record poverty, and unemployment, and that has accelerated with the oil price crisis.”

Zafar sees West Africa Container Terminals as a business that can play a valuable role in helping rectify these problems.

“We have to deal with all these issues, so our focus is to complete this $112 million modernisation project, which is almost 80% done,” Zafar says. “By the end of the year we hope it will be complete, and we will focus on our value-added service project, working closely with our shipping lines and landside customers to further grow this market. We are working with shipping customers to get that growth back into the East Nigeria market.”

The firm is also investing in further training and development programs for its teams, including its supervisors and leadership.

“They are the agents of change, driving operational efficiencies and major improvements,” Zafar insists.

While West Africa Container Terminals is not a large facility in the grand scheme of things, Zafar has high hopes for its future.

“We are not a very big terminal. We have two births and a 40-hectare yard. Our focus right now is on efficiency,” he reflects. “We are using leading methodologies to improve our productivity, reduce waste and cut idle time for vessels. We are also working very hard on digitising our terminal operations, including our trucking system so truckers can book delivery times online. This allows us to serve customers efficiently and cut down on delivery time. It used to be a process taking a number of hours, but the latest status is we are serving them in under 60 minutes.”

In the long term, Zafar’s goal is not only to improve the facility but also to grow its service offering.

“We want to offer value-added services to our clients that go beyond our core business,” Zafar says. “We’re seeing what we can do to further expand and deliver for our clients.”

More like this