Saturday May 19, 2018
By Birhanu Fikade
FILE - Port of Berbera
After forming a tripartite port
development agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Ethiopia,
the Government of Somaliland, which is yearning to gain an international
recognition, has made arrangements to commence the construction of new
port facilities at the Port of Berbera.
During a visit to the Port of
Berbera – 154 kilometers out of the capital Hargeisa – Ali Ismail
Mohamed, head of port operations with the UAE based DP World Group told
Ethiopian journalists that the new tripartite port development project
is set to take effect.
“The construction of the first
phase begins in September and bids will be awarded to potential
developers,” the operations head said.
As per the timeline, the port
project is expected to be finalized by 2020. The port facility, which
currently has the capacity to handle 150,000 container port traffic
(TEU: 20-foot equivalent unit), is expected to expand into handling one
million TEU of 20 and 40-foot mixed units.
The Somaliland Port Authority has
already consolidated port management operations and let DP World
acquire positions in the management and operational activities at the
existing port facilities. The USD 442 million port, according to Mohamed
and his team, will be developed in two phases. During the first phase
of development, both Mohamed and Allan Sanchez – project operations
manager with DP World at the Berbera Port – said that a 430 meter berth
is expected to be constructed which will accommodate two vessels at any
given time. The overall expansion project will bring about a total of
800 meter wide berth that can dock five ships at a time. The existing
port facility accommodates five major vessels on a 650 meter long berth.
In case of Ethiopia’s
involvement, it is hard to find out how the government is taking part in
the development activities. Given its 19 percent stake at the port,
Ethiopia looks at shipping some 30 percent of its import/export trades.
Close to 10 percent of the total volume of shipment will be directed to
Port Sudan. Some 95 percent of the country’s international trade
currently passes through the Port of Djibouti.
The expansion project as
commentators argue not only provides port services but creates
additional milestone in the struggle for recognition as an independent
However, the project is seen as a
threat by the Somalia and Djiboutian authorities. Somalia opposed the
project claiming it has violated its sovereignty while Djibouti didn’t
like Berbera Port becoming a potential contender as it takes a
considerable share of volume from what it currently enjoys.
According to the tripartite
agreement, DP World holds on to a 51 percent share and Somaliland
remains with 30 percent stake. Back in 2016, the initial deal was signed
between UAE and Somaliland; that the former agreed to develop and
manage the port with its own financial coffers. Somaliland will not be
required to contribute in financial terms as the land and the seaport it
availed is considered as an investment in kind.
When asked what it means to have a
19 percent stake at the Berbera Port? Mekonnen Abera, director general
of the Ethiopian Maritime Authority said that such details will not be
necessarily disclosed for the time being.
It is unclear whether Ethiopia’s
willingness to provide electricity to Somaliland is part of the port
project deal. Mekonnen commented on a road project Ethiopia built that
stretches to the border of Somaliland and this should not be mixed with
the port project agreement. He stressed that the road projects are
separately considered as parts of trade routes and corridors for
As the expansion of the Berbera
Port weighs in, the existing port has become instrumental in handling
general and containerized cargos. Somaliland has already built a
container strip close to the ship main yard named Wuchale. It
was named after a historical place in Ethiopia. Some of the general
cargos which the Berbera Port handles include 25,000 tons of food aids.
According to port officials this volume is expected to climb to 40,000
tons this year.