<<< OIL

- Oil pumps up ports -

Ports in Sudan are looking forward to an increase in business as a direct consequence of oil discoveries in the country. But this won't happen overnight, says Hamza Osman, general manager of the Sea Ports Corporation. "We have a 20-year plan, drawn up by Chinese consultants, to develop Port Sudan, although it is difficult to make a forecast for the next two or three years," he says.

Oil exports are the clearest indicator of potential economic growth in OSMAN 'Our facilities are flexible and there is no congestion' the country, he says. Other parts of the economy are also improving such as cotton and sesame exports, but the rate is slow. "In two or three years we should feel the impact from oil more fully, but not immediately," adds Mr Osman.

Port Sudan has a long-term development plan, initiated about 15 years ago with assistance from the World Bank, which the corporation has tried to follow through stage by stage. "There have been some alterations to the original scheme," says Mr Osman. "For example, in stage three there was a plan to build a new terminal to receive oil. Now there is a terminal for the export of oil at Port Bashair. "Outside the port there is a terminal to be financed by the World Bank. This will improve facilities for handling container transshipment, which is growing more and more. Instead of importing oil, we are focusing on this area of the operation."

A new container-handling and storage area is under construction at Port Sudan, which will be used when more cranes are installed. "We can currently handle about 20 containers per crane per hour," says Mr Osman. "This is good for the moment and we think that the fees we apply are reasonable compared with other ports. "As far as traffic with other countries is concerned, we think that Port Sudan is the outlet for landlocked countries such as Chad and even Ethiopia, which contact us to have their cargo shipped from the port. "We are doing our best to provide good facilities and prices and we want to continue doing this. Our present facilities are flexible and there is no congestion at the port. We feel there have been many positive changes. There have been improvements in the type of cargo being handled, the traffic is getting better and containerisation is growing. Significantly, what we are doing now is all self-financed," he says.

Shipping activity will increase on the Red Sea coast as Sudan's exports of refined petroleum products rise. The country stopped importing all oil products last year after a new refinery near Khartoum moved towards full capacity. The refinery, built by a subsidiary of the China National Petroleum Company, began operating early last year and, with an older refinery at El-Obeid in central Sudan, it is now meeting all the needs of the country, which used to import 1.5 million tonnes a year of petroleum products. According to oil ministry under-secretary Hassan Ali al-Tom, Libya has floated the idea of building an oil export pipeline across the Sudanese desert from its southern fields to the Red Sea. This would provide new jobs at the coastal terminal and the government will be able to charge transit fees if the idea comes to fruition.

Sudan is now pumping its surplus oil at an average rate of 185,000 barrels per day (bpd) through a 1,510km-long pipeline from the oilfields in the south to a terminal at Port Bashair. This year the volume should increase to 230,000bpd. Port Bashair is not part of the Sea Ports Corporation, but it is subject to the same marine regulations. The terminal is part of a consortium, in which the Chinese and the Sudanese energy ministry have an interest.

Mr Osman says this is part of a "continuous process" of investment by the Chinese, who have been rehabilitating the original terminal and are completing an extension. Shipping services are represented by Sudan Shipping Line (SSL), which is to be privatised. The 41-year-old line has eight ships, including a ferry with capacity for 2,000 passengers and 300 cars, which oper-ates between Sudan, the Suez and Jordan. Director general Mustafa Nawari says SSL's primary areas of operation are in the Arabian Gulf and West Africa. "We are now pushing to South East Asia for the exchange of goods and commodities," he says.

"For the past decade most of the consumer goods have been coming from the Far East and South East Asia." SSL is negotiating with Korea for two ships, and four more are to be built in Malaysia. "This is a big opportunity for our partners," explains Dr Nawari. "We are expecting the government to make an announcement on policy. We need to improve storage facilities because there is a big shortage in Port Sudan."