Tension is mounting at the Tema Port over the intention of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) to implement its contract with the Meridian Port Services (MPS) from October 15, 2008, to handle all vessels containing 50 and above boxes.
Eight indigenous stevedoring companies have said the implementation of the contract would collapse their business since they said vessels containing less than 50 boxes rarely came to the port.
The eight companies are, Dash Wood Stevedore Company, Golden Gates Services, Atlantic Port Services and Speedline Stevedoring. The rest are Fountain View Services, Odart Stevedoring, Gemini Stevedoring and Advance Stevedoring Company.
Management of the GPHA on Thursday, September 2, 2008 allegedly informed the eight companies of its intetntion to implement a part of a contract it has with the Meridian Port Services (MPS), from October 15.
The MPS, with a 30 per cent share ownership by GPHA, and 70 by Maerskline of Denmark and Bollre of France, is a private company in charge of stevedoring and shore handling at the port, whereas the eight companies are members of the Ghana Association of Stevedoring Companies (GASCO)
Last Thursday, October 9, 2008, workers of the companies hoisted red flags, wore red band on their hands and chanted war songs to register their angst at the impending implementation of the contract.
Mr Joseph Omega Arthur, Operations Manager of Dashwood Stevedore told journalists that as part of measures by the GPHA to decongest the port, private stevedoring companies were given licenses to operate in the port from 2002.
Mr Arthur said as part of the requirements of acquiring the license, the indigenous stevedoring entrepreneurs purchased container handling equipments which costs over 550,000 dollars each through loans they contracted from the banks.
He explained that between 2006 and 2007 GPHA signed a contract with MPS which mandated it (MPS) to use berth one and two for its activities while the rest including the GPHA use berth three to 12.
He noted that management of the GPHA however told them on Thursday that "berth three to five has been added to the berths allocated to MPS".
The Operations Manager indicated that MPS was already handling 50 percent of the container works at the port, while GPHA handles about 25 percent leaving only 25 percent for the other companies.
He added that the companies would have no option than to lay off their employees numbering about 3,000.
Madam Josephine Nkrumah, Executive Secretary of GASCO pleaded with GPHA to suspend the implementation of the said contract until they receive a reply to a petition they sent to the President in August this year.
She noted that even though her outfit has informed the GPHA of the petition it had refused to consider its plea.
Mr Ben Owusu Mensah, Director General of GPHA has however rebuffed the claims of GASCO.
He told the Ghana News Agency that members of the GASCO did not give his outfit the opportunity to explain.
“We called them to a meeting for the issue to be explained to them but they walked out,” he said.
Mr Mensah further noted that the implementation of the contract has been postponed to January 2009 to enable GPHA put in some logistical measures, and that his outfit was planning on building additional container terminal due to the increase of containers passing through the port.
He added that due to the shift from cargo shipping to container shipping, the Tema port received about 500,000 containers instead of the initial 120,000.
He further stated that MPS which has the equipments and capacity to receive vessels with 50 plus containers would from January assume responsibility for container shore handling operations which, he said, the stevedoring companies were not involved in.
Mr Mensah gave the assurance that the GPHA would renew the licences of the stevedoring companies in January as a normal practice, adding, “nobody is throwing them out of business.”