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58 www. bus- ex. com September / October 09

shipping lines. It also handles security matters, ship chartering and freight consolidation. In fact, says deputy managing director Captain Luc Deruyver, it's a full service provider that can put together any package a shipper might need in the rather complex and specialised commercial environment that prevails in Nigeria. For Lagos is a regional, not just a national port. Nigeria is awash with oil money and engaging in a massive programme of house building and infrastructure improvement fuelled by government grants and increasingly, private equity. The country continues to rely heavily on imported building materials and components- it is reported that at least 70 per cent of the fabric and finish of a building is not locally produced. Oil discoveries off Ghana in 2007 have kicked off a boom there that will keep West Africa in fast growth mode for the foreseeable future. Over the last five years, Nigeria's economy grew steadily at six per cent, and even in the first quarter of 2009 it grew by almost five per cent. From Sifax's point of view, the effect on trade from the global downturn has not been significant, says Deruyver. " There was a bit of a drop at the beginning of the year but business has picked up quickly in the last twelve weeks; the trend seems to be improving and I think it will be business as usual by the end of this year. We are banking on the Nigerian economy continuing to outperform Europe and the USA." Containers are the core of Sifax's business, he explains. " We do have some general cargo- bulk salt, rice and the like- coming through our hands but containers and steel are our specialities." These are cargoes that are comparatively easy to handle, offering large tonnage with small volume. Congestion and the fact that space is at a premium at Apapa means that Sifax differentiates itself as an operator by its ability not only to unload ships quickly but to move the goods to its adjacent storage facilities and then get them out of the port as quickly as possible. Its groupage warehouse at the port can hold more than 8,200 tonnes and its total cargo storage space exceeds 21,000 tonnes. Its recent concession at Tin Can port's Terminal C and its bonded terminal give it capacity for 10,286 containers. On the general cargo side, Sifax has 795 metres of wharves for unloading general cargo and roll- on- roll- off ( ro- ro) vessels, as well as the container ships. Space on the dockside is the big issue, Deruyver says, and to address it the company is investing in RTGs- rubber tyred gantries- to replace its reach stackers. This will add a valuable 30 per cent in capacity to the available space on the wharf, he says. The service that Sifax provides doesn't stop at the port gate. Its fleet of 35 trucks moves goods up- country as C ongestion is an on- off fact of life in the busy ports of West Africa. In general, conditions had improved over the first half of 2009 but at the time of writing, 52 ships were reported to be waiting to enter the port of Lagos. This is Nigeria's busiest port, indeed one of the largest in the African continent, and like most large ports it comprises a large number of wharves and terminals. The container terminal is at Apapa, to the west of the network of creeks that cross the city, and this is where Sifax Group has had its headquarters since 1988. The company has also had a storage yard at Tin Can Island since 2002 and a port concession since 2006. Sifax offers offloading, storage, logistics and forwarding services to its customers, the major international freight Sifax Group September / October 09 www. bus- ex. com 59