Ivory Coast’s main ports of Abidjan and San Pedro remained shut as staffing and logistical issues meant operations could not resume, shipping sources said.
Economic activity in the world’s top cocoa producer ground to a halt in recent months as the country spiralled into civil war after a disputed presidential election in November. “The port (Abidjan) is still closed and under control of French forces. Activity has not resumed yet,” a ship insurance source based in Ivory Coast said.
“Until the calm will come back, it will not be safe for the people to move to the port.”
The source said a chemical tanker and an oil tanker were outside the port awaiting pilots to guide the vessels in.
“No ships have entered the port,” the source said. “There was no fighting in the port and nothing has been damaged.”
Two shipping sources said San Pedro, another major cocoa export port, was also not operational on Wednesday.
Given the lifting of EU sanctions on Friday, the arrest of defeated leader Laurent Gbagbo earlier this week and the European Union and the World Bank pledging financial support to the country, optimism is increasing that Ivory Coast might restart economic activities soon.
Ouattara said everything was in place to immediately resume cocoa exports, adding that he had named an interim director of Abidjan port.
“The management do not interfere in the daily operations of the port,” the ship insurance source said.
A unit of Danish shipping and oil group A.P Moller-Maersk said one of its vessels in the region had postponed calling at Abidjan port.
“We had to cancel that because it is not possible for our customers to bring cargo and documentation to the port,” Anders Boenaes, vice president for Africa trades at Maersk Line, told Reuters.
“We run on weekly schedules, in Abidjan the next attempt will be next week.”
Boenaes said another vessel may try and call at San Pedro at the weekend.
“If things suddenly clear up and we can come in this weekend we will go in. Otherwise it will be on the following one.”
Shipper Safmarine said it had also postponed bringing vessels into Ivorian ports.
“The ports are not yet open and the people are not going to work because they cannot move securely in the city of Abidjan,” said Didier Willemse, head of commodity sales at Safmarine.
“For the moment we have planned for vessels to call at Abidjan for next week but they are not guaranteed to call because of security reasons.”
A crippled banking system is also making it difficult for economic activity to resume in Ivory Coast.
“The fact that banks are still closed is hampering exporters’ daily processes of buying, selling and paying salaries,” Willemse said.
Foreign banks suspended operations in Ivory Coast in February. Banks including Ivory Coast’s biggest bank, a unit of Societe Generale, French bank BNP Paribas, and Citibank declined to comment on when their operations might resume, saying they were monitoring the situation.
Ouattara that branches of the regional Central Bank were likely to reopen next week after being closed for months, paving the way for private banks to do the same.
International trade houses looking to export cocoa also said they were waiting for clarification from the Ivorian authorities on the process for resuming exports.
“You can’t export for the simple fact you can’t pay any tax, if you can’t pay tax you can’t load cocoa,” a dealer at an international trade house said. (Reuters)