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Ethiopia striving to unload bulk cargo at Djibouti Port

Ethiopian Shipping and Logistics Services to buy 300 trucks

The Ethiopian Government is exerting maximum efforts in unloading bulk wheat and fertilizer cargo at the Port of Djibouti.

The government had bought 1.6 million tons of wheat for drought- afflicted population estimated at 10 million.

At a consultative meeting organized by the Ministry of Transport on April 17, Kassahun Hailemariam, director-general of the Federal Transport Authority, said that the port of Djibouti is congested by vessels hauling wheat and fertilizer. Ethiopia has never imported more than 400,000 quintals of wheat. But to withstand the worst drought in the last 50 years, the government has bought 16 million tons of wheat.   

“We have to urgently deliver the wheat to the drought-affected region. We also have to distribute the fertilizer as it has begun raining,” Kassahun said.

Currently, there are 36 vessels at sea waiting to unload. The port of Djibouti can handle 13 ships at a time. The Ethiopian government is using three berths and unloading six ships, every day discharging 12 000 tons of wheat and fertilizer. Kassahun said in a coordinated effort the country is hauling 17,000 tons of cargo from the port daily. “We have never transported more than 7,000 tons from the port. We are working day and night,” he said.

Ethiopian transporters have been told to work 24 hours. The Galafi border check-point started working 24 hours. The Ethiopian government instructed all truck owners to engage in wheat and fertilizer transport. The Federal Transport Authority told transporters to make five trips to Djibouti every month.

Some of the transporters are not happy with the transport tariff the government has offered. One of the transporters said that there was a huge difference between the transport tariff rates the private sector and the government offer. “We know that there is drought. But we are unable to transport the cargo as many trucks are shying away due to low transport tariff rates.”

The other major problem the transporters raised was an efficient inspection work by some organizations. The transporters claim that trucks are forced to park for a prolonged time due to inefficient inspection work. “For instance, a truck carrying steel is stranded for 16 days until it is inspected by the Ethiopian Standards Agency,” they lamented.

They suggested that the Ethiopian Quality Agency, the Ministry of Trade and the Ministry of Transport synchronize their efforts.    

Kassahun said that the cargo transport tariff rate is not regulated. He said due to the high volume of cargo being imported there is high demand for trucks and this has escalated the tariff. However, it is unfair to take these rates as a regular price and demand the government to offer similar rate. “This is an emergency situation that we all are responsible to handle responsibly as citizens of this country. We had a meeting with all transporters in this regard. We have explained the emergency relief mission. We have to give priority to transport wheat and fertilizer with reasonable tariff rate.”

Kassahun said that the government is doing the job painstakingly not to inflict harm on the economy. “We did not touch the goods imported with multi-modal transport. We hold steel cargo for some time as we should give priority to wheat and fertilizer. We have to understand that this is a national obligation,” Kassahun said.

Roba Megerssa, deputy director general of the Ethiopian Maritime Affairs Authority, said that a command post that supervises the expedited port operation has been established. Two members representing the Ethiopian Freight Forwarders and Shipping Agents Association joined the Command Post. Roba said that a national logistics strategy has been drafted after consultation with the Ethiopian Freight Forwarders and Shipping Agents Association. “We are about to implement the new national logistics strategy.”

Roba said handling the bulk wheat and fertilizer cargo is a big challenge. “All concerned authorities are working hard. The Djiboutian Authorities are very helpful and they deserve acknowledgment.”

Some five years ago Ethiopian annual total import which was 8 million tons increased to 13 million tons. Roba said Ethiopian began importing unstuffed cargo in 2012 and the amount of unstuffed cargo being imported has been increasing ever since.

There is only one unstuffed cargo handling company. “We are using only one facility which has a limited capacity,” Roba said.

Regarding steel accumulated at the port Roba said there is 300,000 tons of steel at any given time imported by projects and private companies. An assignment has been given to the Ethiopian Shipping and Logistic Services Enterprise, the sole multi-modal transport operator, to transport the steel to mainland.

According to Roba, the Ethiopian Maritime Affairs Authority is in the process to open an office in Djibouti. “We have asked for the required budget and personnel. The branch office will enable us monitor the port activity closely,” he said.

The Reporter has learnt that the Ethiopian Shipping and Logistics Services Enterprise is to buy 300 modern trucks. The enterprise has already deployed 200 trucks in which each has the capacity to transport 600 quintals. The 300 trucks the enterprise is in the process to buy will also have the same capacity. The board of the enterprise has approved the procurement.