Boosted bunkering services enable Walvis Bay to capitalise on the Suez Canal crisis

Niël Terblanché

The port of Walvis Bay has witnessed a remarkable 32 percent year-on-year increase in vessel calls for the year ending on 31 December 2023 because of the continued surge of maritime activity around the southern tip of Africa

The Namibian Ports Authority (Namport) attributed the growth in port calls to a variety of vessels including container ships, dry bulk carriers, and reefers to geopolitical tensions that have prompted a significant shift in global shipping routes.

Andrew Kanime, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Namport, said the surge is not just in the number of vessels but also in their gross tonnage, which rose by 24 percent, alongside a 29 percent uptick in pilot services provided.

The pivot towards Walvis Bay has been significantly influenced by the ongoing conflict around the Horn of Africa, leading vessels to bypass the traditionally crucial Suez Canal.

Kanime reiterated Namport’s commitment to safety and environmental responsibility amidst the growing demand

Namport’s executive for commercial services, Elias Mwenyo, also reported a significant spike in bunkering services, attributing it to vessels rerouting to avoid the troubled waters of the Suez Canal.

He said that in response to this unexpected boon, Namport has proactively expanded its fuel infrastructure to cater to the increased demand for bunkering services.

He added that the expansion ensures a reliable fuel supply for the influx of visiting vessels

The crisis around the Suez Canal, sparked by Houthi rebels’ attacks on commercial vessels servicing Israel, has inadvertently positioned Walvis Bay as a critical refuelling destination.

Petroleum imports through the port have skyrocketed by 50 percent, from 796,277 tonnes in 2022 to 1,192,286 tonnes in 2023, marking a significant milestone in the port’s history.

Walvis Bay’s ascendancy in the maritime sector is emphasized by its ability to outmanoeuvre South African ports like Algoa Bay, which has struggled with capacity constraints.

Mwenyo said Namport’s strategic readiness has enabled it to absorb the increase in maritime traffic, offering a viable alternative for vessels circumventing the port of Cape Town in lieu of the Suez Canal route.

The economic implications of this shift extend beyond the port itself, with the local tourism, travel, and hospitality sectors in Walvis Bay and nearby Swakopmund benefiting from increased crew changes and vessel restocking.

Mwenyo gave the assurance that the port of Walvis Bay does not have capacity challenges, even as it ramps up its bunkering services to accommodate the larger vessels now frequenting the port.

This strategic positioning has not only elevated Walvis Bay on the global maritime map but also highlighted the potential losses for other ports.

The port’s enhanced capacity and readiness strategies have not only mitigated the impact of the Suez Canal crisis on global shipping but have also positioned Walvis Bay as a key player in the international bunkering and maritime services arena.

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