The (large) ambitions of São Tomé and Príncipe in infrastructure

The (large) ambitions of São Tomé and Príncipe in infrastructure

27/06/2016 source “Jeune Afrique”

A deep water port and an international airport that worth its name? They are expected very soon. No more playing with thumbnails: to stimulate its economy, the archipelago thinks big.

In Fernão Dias, in the north of the island of São Tome, about 30 km from the capital is being built up a deep water port. Another, in Central Africa, that already has several? To those of Pointe Noire in Congo, of Kribi in Cameroon, Malabo in Equatorial Guinea, joins rivals of West Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, etc..

For the São Tomé and Príncipe authorities, however, it becomes a necessity. Because the port of the capital, located in the Bay of Ana Chaves and managed by ENAPORT public company no longer meets the needs and even less the export development projects. Not very deep, it can only receive ships whose draft does not exceed 3,5 m.

And its container storage area has limited capacity of 600 tons, the equivalent to twenty-foot (TEU). Result, most of the ships must anchor offshore, where small boats operate to make the transfer, many operations that make the traffic slow at departure and arrival.

The aim is to make the archipelago a customs and tax platform

But the reason for this future harbour comes mainly from the government’s wish to develop the trans-shipment activities.

“The archipelago enjoys a strategic position in the Gulf of Guinea, about 300 km from the African continent, an area with nearly 450 million people and which brings together the richest countries of Central Africa. For them, we are ideally situated, in the route to Europe and the Americas”, enthuses Adelino Cardoso, director of the Ministry of studies of Infrastructure. To encourage the ship-owners, the aim is to make the archipelago a customs and tax platform. The administration is working to upgrade these services too.

Who will finance the construction of the new port? In October 2015, the government signed a memorandum of understanding with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) for the design and execution of the works, whose delivery is scheduled for 2019. CHEC should invest at least 120 million Dollars, of a cost total of 800 million. The government of São Tome intends to diversify its partners, so that the budget is not yet complete.

“To prevent traffic from passing through the route”, says Adelino Cardoso, will be deployed small coastal ports, for coastal shipping along the coast, and the services of the port of São Tome (which will become interior and a fishing port) will be improved. Located on the northwest coast of the island, the small town of Neves (considered the industrial centre of the country) now receives fuel imports and serves as a fishing port. If the oil business grows, its infrastructure will be strengthened.

Finally, on the island of Príncipe, the port in St. Antonio Bay, which can only accommodate ships with a maximum draft of 1,7 m, it will also be rehabilitated.

Encouraging projects in the air and maritime transport

Also on the program is the modernization of the international airport. The country shall respond to the development of trade and tourism (including the existing between the two islands), as well as attract customers in Central Africa and West Africa. It is planned the lengthening of its runway, too short (2200 m) in order to receive large aircrafts like the Airbus A310, and the construction of a new terminal and a hangar.

For now, the capital, served by several foreign companies such as the Portuguese TAP and the Angolan TAAG is linked to Lisbon, Libreville, Accra, Luanda and Malabo. STP Airways, the national airline, carries the links with Portugal and the island of Príncipe, where have already been implemented the lengthening works (1,750 m) from the runway at San Antonio airport, thanks to an investment of 8 million Euros made by the South African funds Here Be Dragons (HBD), of Mark Shuttleworth, very active in the tourism sector. The aim is to increase from four to seven the weekly flights between the islands and bring down prices, which remain high between St. Tomé and St. António, the capital of Príncipe.

Currently near 200 Euros shall be paid for a round-trip ticket by air. A sum that is not accessible to all budgets in a country where the minimum wage does not exceed 50 Euros. Therefore is by boat that locals and also some tourists, travel from one island to another. A trip lasting at least five hours (against thirty minutes by plane), and that depends on the sea, often rough in this part of the Gulf of Guinea.

Travel and safety conditions have been improved, however, thanks to a maritime link made by HBD. To approximate the sister islands, the state also recently purchased two ferries. It remains to find a private operator to start its exploration, which could occur by the end of the year.