27 Nov Interview with Sidi Mohamed Ould Maham, General Manager Autonomous Port of Nouakchott (Port of friendship – PANPA)
Business Focus: Where does the sector fit into the government’s national development strategy, and what steps has the state taken to revitalize its ports and make the country a viable trade route for the region and Europe?
Sidi Mohamed OULD MAHAM: Elevating the maritime transport and ports sector to enhance trade facilitation, diminish transportation and port expenditures, and fortify economic competitiveness stands as a paramount national strategic objective. In pursuit of this goal, the government has initiated a comprehensive plan, encompassing institutional reforms such as the establishment of the Maritime Affairs Agency, and targeted efforts directed at the restructuring, regulation, and enhancement of the quality of current port infrastructures. Simultaneously, the focus extends to the construction of new state-of-the-art facilities. This multifaceted approach underscores the commitment to fostering a dynamic and efficient maritime environment conducive to national economic growth.
BF: PANPA is an artificial deep-water port created in the 1980s as one of the first public commercial ports in the southern Sahara. The port is on a direct route to Europe and has a traffic capacity of 1 million tons. It underwent a massive redevelopment from 2018, which saw the creation of a new container and hydrocarbon terminal. Can you give our readers an overview of the port’s current capabilities and operations? Can you also give us some key figures to assess its importance in the Mauritanian economy?
Sidi Mohamed OULD MAHAM: Situated as the first public commercial port south of the Sahara and positioned as a pivotal nexus linking Europe, Africa, and North America, the Autonomous Port of Nouakchott, also known as the Port of Friendship (PANPA), commands a strategic geographical advantage. This positioning not only designates PANPA as a linchpin in international trade for Mauritania but also positions it as a key access point for neighboring landlocked nations, notably Mali. Presently equipped with nine berths (comprising seven public berths and two private berths), PANPA serves as a deep-water port with the capacity to accommodate ships with a draft of 11.2 meters for multipurpose berths and 14 meters for container and hydrocarbon vessels.
The fundamental infrastructural components of the Port de l’Amitié encompass a North quay, extending 585 meters in length and 45 meters in width, featuring three berths (Post 1 to 3) and the easement quay. Additionally, a South quay, measuring 450 meters in length and 69 meters in width, dockable on two sides, incorporates four berths (Berths 4 to 7). Moreover, a specialized quay spanning 570 meters is dedicated to containers and hydrocarbons, overseen by the Nouakchott Container Terminal Company (TCN) through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) agreement. Under this arrangement, the operator assumes responsibility for financing, constructing, and managing a Container and Hydrocarbon Terminal dredged to -14.5 meters (Station 8 and 9).
Crucially, PANPA stands as a cornerstone of the national economy, contributing significantly to customs revenue, with over 85% of the country’s customs revenue generated through its traffic. Beyond its economic impact, PANPA makes a direct contribution to the state budget, underscoring its pivotal role in Mauritania’s maritime landscape.
BF: As the capital’s maritime hub, you absorb a significant portion of the country’s trade. What types of imports and exports pass through the port and how has this composition changed in recent years?
Sidi Mohamed OULD MAHAM: The growth trajectory of traffic at the Autonomous Port of Nouakchott (PANPA) has been nothing short of exponential since its inauguration in 1986. From its initial throughput of just over 400,000 tons in 1987, PANPA has witnessed a remarkable ascent, culminating in the handling of more than 5.22 million tons in 2022.
A noteworthy facet of this growth is seen in containerized traffic, which surged from 56,448 tons in 1988 to an impressive 1,762,112 tons in 2022. Illustrating this surge further, the number of twenty-foot equivalent containers (TEU) reached a substantial 185,290 TEU in the same year.
In 2022, the total tonnage handled by PANPA amounted to 5,221,688 tons. Within this, 4,216,081 tons were attributed to imports, underscoring PANPA’s significance as a crucial entry point, while 1,005,607 tons were dedicated to exports, emphasizing its role as an essential outbound hub for Mauritanian goods. These statistics affirm PANPA’s pivotal role in facilitating trade, showcasing its continuous evolution and prominence in the maritime domain.
BF: How has the port developed and expanded since its creation, what work is currently being carried out to modernize its operations and increase its capacities?
Sidi Mohamed OULD MAHAM: Established in 1986, PANPA initially comprised three berths, spanning a total length of 585 meters, with a maximum draft of 9.5 meters. At its inception, it held a theoretical maximum tonnage of one million tons, intending to support the burgeoning economic growth of the country and cater to the needs of operators and the populace for various commodities and equipment.
Recognizing the imperative to align with the sustained economic expansion, PANPA underwent strategic expansions in 2014 and 2021, enhancing berthing structures and elevating its theoretical capacity to an impressive 10 million tons. These expansions were complemented by robust updates to regulatory and safety standards. In 2009, PANPA achieved certification for compliance with the International Ship and Port Facilities Security Code (ISPS Code), in accordance with the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention amendments of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
Undergoing regular audits by both the national maritime authority and the United States Coast Guard (USCG), PANPA remains committed to ensuring and upholding the highest standards of safety and security. This steadfast dedication to maritime safety aligns with international regulations and underscores PANPA’s commitment to fostering secure maritime practices.
An essential transformation occurred under the directive of president Ghazouani, who, in response to disruptive strikes until 2019, implemented measures that revitalized PANPA’s social climate. This decisive intervention not only quelled tensions but also paved the way for peaceful relations between social partners. Today, PANPA stands as a beacon of stability, contributing to the prosperity of the entire national community.
BF: New offshore oil and gas discoveries will make the country a key gas exporter during a global energy crisis. What impact will the growth of local oil and gas activities have on PANPA? What role could PANPA play in this industry, and how are you preparing for it? What other growth and development opportunities does PANPA intend to seize in the future?
Sidi Mohamed OULD MAHAM: Since its inception, PANPA has played a pivotal role in facilitating offshore oil and gas exploration operations. This strategic engagement has not only contributed positively to the Port’s revenues but has also catalyzed substantial activities for local port logistics companies.
The thriving oil and gas sector has prompted the establishment of logistics bases within the port premises, hosting installations for prominent multinationals involved in the sector. Key players such as BP/Kosmos Energy, Kinross, Total, and Exxon have strategically positioned their operations at PANPA. This strategic clustering of multinational installations within the port underscores PANPA’s significance as a preferred hub for offshore exploration activities.
The symbiotic relationship between PANPA and the oil and gas industry not only enhances the Port’s economic viability but also fortifies its role as a critical enabler for the energy sector. This dynamic synergy contributes not only to PANPA’s sustained growth but also underscores its importance as a strategic partner in facilitating key sectors critical to the national economy.
BF: The digital revolution is rapidly transforming all sectors, particularly logistics. How would you assess the current level of digitalization in the Mauritanian maritime and commercial sector? What steps has PANPA taken to digitalize the port and introduce new technologies?
Sidi Mohamed OULD MAHAM: The digital transformation of public services and administrations stands as a strategic imperative for the Mauritanian government under the visionary directives of president Ghazouani. Notably, the Autonomous Port of Nouakchott (PANPA) has been an early adopter of this transformative approach, aligning itself with the overarching digitalization trend that permeates various sectors of economic and commercial activities. At present, PANPA boasts an integrated IT system that orchestrates a spectrum of port operations, ranging from the initiation and management of ship calls to the streamlined processing of goods release documents. This end-to-end digitalization encompasses all associated documents related to both goods and ships.
Furthermore, the integrated IT system extends its purview to essential facets of port management, seamlessly incorporating functions related to accounting and human resources. PANPA’s proactive embrace of digital technologies underscores its commitment to efficiency, accuracy, and the modernization of operational processes.
In pursuit of continuous enhancement, PANPA is actively engaged in the establishment of a comprehensive one-stop shop for port operations. This forward-looking initiative aligns with PANPA’s commitment to providing an integrated and streamlined experience for all stakeholders involved in port-related activities. As PANPA navigates the digital frontier, it not only enhances its operational efficiency but also contributes significantly to the broader national agenda of digital transformation and modernization.
BF: Mauritania was ranked third among the countries most affected in sub-Saharan Africa by climate change. According to UNDP, the country is currently targeting a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030. What is PANPA doing to reduce carbon emissions? What efforts does it make to protect the local environment?
Sidi Mohamed OULD MAHAM: PANPA has swiftly integrated into the national policy dedicated to curbing carbon emissions, showcasing its commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility. As part of this conscientious approach, PANPA has allocated portions of its port area to host the country’s inaugural wind farm, boasting a capacity of 30 MW. This wind farm stands as a pioneering contribution to the nation’s energy mix, effectively addressing the energy requirements of Nouakchott, the capital city. In alignment with these efforts, PANPA has initiated negotiations for the establishment of a solar field within the port precinct. This solar field is envisioned to cater to the energy demands of the entire port platform, encompassing ships docked at the port, thereby substantively mitigating the carbon footprint associated with port operations.
These initiatives underscore PANPA’s proactive stance in embracing renewable energy sources and fostering a sustainable energy ecosystem. Beyond energy generation, PANPA is championing additional measures aligned with environmental conservation objectives. This includes the creation of green spaces within the port area, contributing to ecological balance and fostering a healthier environment. Simultaneously, PANPA is revitalizing and expanding its environmental services, a testament to its commitment to holistic sustainability practices.
In essence, PANPA’s multifaceted endeavors in renewable energy adoption and environmental stewardship reflect its dedication to both national sustainability goals and the broader global imperative of combating climate change.
BF: American investments in Mauritania have generally focused on hydrocarbons and mines. However, other sectors such as green energy and telecommunications now look promising for American investors. How important has been foreign investment in the Mauritanian port industry? In what joint venture projects or PPPs is PANPA involved, and what are your ambitions in this area for the years to come?
Sidi Mohamed OULD MAHAM: The port sector in Mauritania stands as a compelling magnet for foreign investments, and PANPA has emerged as a trailblazer in materializing substantial public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the country. A testament to this is the successful implementation of the first large-scale PPP, giving rise to a state-of-the-art Container Terminal. The total investment injected into this transformative endeavor surpasses a noteworthy $300 million, underscoring the magnitude and significance of PANPA’s commitment to fostering strategic collaborations with the private sector.
Building on this success, PANPA is actively engaged in an ongoing initiative to establish additional public-private partnership projects. Foremost among these ventures is the prospective creation of a dedicated grain terminal, enhancing the port’s capabilities in handling crucial commodities. Furthermore, PANPA is venturing into the establishment of a logistics zone specifically tailored to cater to energy operations. These endeavors reflect PANPA’s proactive approach to diversifying its portfolio of offerings and leveraging private sector expertise to fortify the port’s infrastructure and operational capabilities.
PANPA’s pivotal role in spearheading these initiatives attests to its attractiveness as a hub for foreign investments, further solidifying its position as a catalyst for economic growth and development in Mauritania. As these projects unfold, PANPA remains at the forefront of fostering mutually beneficial collaborations that contribute to the nation’s economic vitality.
BF: By the end of 2022, the American government has committed to investing $55 billion in the African continent. How could the Mauritanian logistics, port and infrastructure sector benefit from it? What potential role could the United States play in developing the country’s ports?
Sidi Mohamed OULD MAHAM: The Mauritanian logistics, port, and infrastructure sector present tangible and compelling opportunities for both public and private international investments, with a distinct emphasis on the potential involvement of the American government. Mauritania, endowed with an expansive maritime coastline along the Atlantic exceeding 700 km, coupled with its strategically advantageous geographical position in relation to the United States, naturally positions itself as an attractive destination for American investments.
The United States, recognizing the strategic significance of Mauritania’s ports and infrastructure development, is poised to assume a pivotal role in guiding and encouraging its private sector to engage in this burgeoning sector. The unique geographical alignment and expansive coastline make Mauritania an ideal investment destination for American enterprises seeking to capitalize on the country’s maritime potential and contribute to the development of its port facilities.
In this context, the potential collaboration between Mauritania and the United States represents a mutually beneficial avenue for fostering economic growth and fortifying the infrastructure landscape. The envisioned partnership envisions not only investment but also knowledge transfer, technological expertise, and best practices, all of which are instrumental in steering the Mauritanian logistics and port sector toward sustained prosperity. As Mauritania opens its doors to international investments, the active participation and encouragement from the American government underscore the shared commitment to leveraging economic potential and fostering robust bilateral ties.
BF: What vision do you have for the port in the next five to ten years? What potential role could it play in the industrial transformation of Mauritania?
Sidi Mohamed OULD MAHAM: PANPA has strategically positioned itself on the forefront of modernization, expansion, and specialization. As part of a comprehensive program to maintain and revitalize port infrastructure, PANPA has embarked on a series of extension and modernization projects. This ambitious agenda, executed through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), underscores PANPA’s commitment to bolstering operational capacities and fostering economic diversification.
In the short term, PANPA envisions several pivotal projects, including the creation of a dedicated area for services linked to energy sector activities, encompassing oil, gas, and green hydrogen. Simultaneously, a specialized station for solid bulks, including cereals and clinker, is in development. Equipped with silos for optimal storage, this facility aims to contribute to the establishment of a national strategic stock.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Energy, PANPA is poised to commission a specialized station for receiving a portion of the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from the Grand Tortue Ahmeyim (GTA) deposit. Additionally, the construction of a dry port in Gougui Zemal, strategically located on the border with the Republic of Mali, is set to enhance cross-border trade and connectivity.
Amid these developments, PANPA is implementing an array of initiatives, including the dredging of berths 1 to 3 and the acquisition of a new 4000 HP tugboat, strengthening its operational capabilities. This tugboat represents a vital addition to PANPA’s fleet, facilitating efficient and safe maritime operations.
Looking ahead to the medium term, PANPA remains committed to specialization through the construction of an ore terminal. This facility, designed primarily for export activities, will accommodate companies exploiting various deposits, such as iron ore, copper concentrate, gypsum, phosphates, and more. By doing so, PANPA not only solidifies its role as a key port in the Sahel but also contributes significantly to regional economic integration and development.
PANPA’s multifaceted approach, marked by infrastructure enhancement, technological innovation, and strategic partnerships, positions it as a driving force in the economic vibrancy and sustainable development of Mauritania and the broader Sahel region.
BF: What’s your final message to the USA Today readers?
Sidi Mohamed OULD MAHAM: I extend my gratitude to USA TODAY for providing this platform to address its extensive audience, reaching 2.5 million daily readers and 133 million monthly online visitors. This opportunity allows me to shed light on the pivotal role of PANPA in the national economy and its active contribution to realizing the ambitious program of president Mohamed Cheikh El Ghazwani.
PANPA’s significance has transcended beyond economic realms and now extends to the social domain with the establishment of a charitable association dedicated to PANPA. This association is driven by noble objectives:
- Material and Moral Support: Extend support to PANPA’s active and retired staff, along with their families, as well as vulnerable segments of the population.
- Job Creation and Sustainable Income: Develop, finance, and implement projects aimed at generating employment opportunities and establishing substantial and sustainable income sources for the beneficiaries.
- Micro-Credit Accessibility: Facilitate access to micro-credits for underprivileged populations, fostering economic empowerment and financial inclusion.
This holistic approach aligns with PANPA’s commitment not only to economic prosperity but also to social responsibility, making a positive impact on the lives of individuals and communities.
I seize this moment to appeal to foreign investors, particularly from the United States, encouraging them to explore and invest in the myriad opportunities presented by Mauritania’s ports and logistics sector. Your investment can play a pivotal role in advancing economic growth, job creation, and the overall development of this dynamic and promising region.