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Unicargas leading logistics leaps in Angola

Article - August 1, 2014
Unicargas invests to provide a complete service from container terminal to customer’s door
SUCCESSFUL STATE-OWNED NATIONAL LOGISTICS COMPANY UNICARGAS HAS PLAYED A BIG ROLE IN HELPING ANGOLA BECOME ONE OF THE LARGEST ECONOMIES IN THE CONTINENT.
Unicargas, the state-owned national logistics company, is keenly aware of the key role it plays in handling rapidly and efficiently ever greater volumes of goods traffic in Angola’s booming economy.

To outsiders, the task might appear daunting; how to unload, process and deliver large volumes of containers of goods in a large African country highly dependent on imports. One that also for a decade, between 2001 and 2010, grew at an average annual rate of 10.5%, faster even than China. To do this in a country where essential infrastructure had been largely destroyed or severely damaged in a long and bitter civil war only adds to the task.

Ruben N’Dombasi, Chairman of Unicargas, proudly relates how both his country and his company have not only coped with this immense challenge but thrived on it to become one of the largest economies in the continent.

He emphasizes the critical role of ports in Angola’s economy and in the country’s growth since such rapid development was obviously dependent on the ability to import sophisticated equipment and heavy machinery which the country itself was in no position to produce. However, the challenge did not end there since internal roads and communications had also been badly affected in the civil war and thus a national infrastructure had to be rebuilt, virtually from scratch.

With peace, Angola’s oil and gas reserves could be efficiently harnessed to generate income to rebuild the shattered economy, with spending on logistics and infrastructure being prioritized.

Mr. N’Dombasi states that although 80% of Angola’s imports come through the port of Luanda, sizable investments in ports and container terminals have also been made elsewhere to better serve the needs of extractive industries including hydrocarbons and minerals in other parts of the country. The port of Cabinda, for example, in the Angolan enclave between the two Congo republics, now has a terminal able to handle 500,000 containers a year.

Other major investments have included a new container terminal and a new minerals-handling facility at the port of Lobito, besides extensions of existing facilities there and renovation of the Benguela railroad, which terminates at the port, to boost minerals exports from Angola and also from neighboring countries.

Unicargas is present in all these places with its 805 employees in Cabinda and Lobito, besides its major hub in Luanda where the company operates the Multipurpose Terminal handling containers and vehicles, as well as bulk cargo. Unicargas has the concession to operate this terminal until 2025.

Investments in upgrading the country’s road and rail networks is, of course, also extremely important to the operations of Unicargas.

UNICARGAS POSSESSES A GREAT COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE BECAUSE OF HAVING A SPUR FROM THE LUANDA RAILWAY COMING DIRECTLY INTO ITS MAIN TERMINAL...LINKING SEAMLESSLY MARITIME WITH RAIL.

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THE EMPHASIS ON PROVIDING LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES FOR STAFF EVEN EXTENDS TO THE COMPANY INVESTING IN MASTER’S DEGREES FOR SELECTED STAFF AT LOCAL ANGOLAN INSTITUTES.

Mr. N’Dombasi highlights the priorities of linking all provincial capitals to Luanda and of building new roads so as to get products to their markets. The company’s chairman also points out the critical importance of completing the rehabilitation and modernization of the country’s rail network, adding that much has already been done on the Luanda, Benguela and Moçâmedes lines. The national Ango-Ferro Plan aims to interconnect these east-west lines and then build new north-south lines so that all of Angola’s provinces would be linked in a true network, something which would transform logistics handling within the country.

Mr. N’Dombasi is, however, keen to emphasize that the country needs to keep up the pace of investment in “integrated, efficient, safe and protected infrastructure”, mentioning in particular the new ports to be completed. This includes the deep-water port at Cabinda, the port of Dande in Luanda with its planned eight specialized terminals and its connection to the new airport, besides the new port at Amboim. He adds that the development corridors and the intermodal logistics platforms being implemented in various parts of the country will undoubtedly impact positively on Unicargas’ business, linking the hinterland to the seaports and thus facilitating exports as well as making the distribution of imported goods easier.

Unicargas possesses a great competitive advantage, as Mr. N’Dombasi points out, because of having a spur from the Luanda Railway coming directly into its main terminal. It enables the company to offer an integrated logistics operation, linking seamlessly maritime with rail.

Mr. N’Dombasi sees this advantage being developed even further with a plan to set up a facility to transfer freight directly from their maritime terminal to inland dry port terminals. The plan would reduce the length of time containers would need to spend in the maritime port, reduce railway congestion and, of course, reduce the cost of transporting containers between the maritime port and the final customer. Summing it up, Mr. N’Dombasi states simply that Unicargas has everything “in one intermodal place to be an integrated logistics operator”.

However, that is certainly not enough for such an ambitious company as Unicargas.

Asked about the company’s future plans, Mr. N’Dombasi wants in the short and medium term to set up logistics bases in a number of other strategic provinces, saying that he sees huge development potential in Cabinda, as well as in Benguela.

Studies and projects are also being completed to invest in rehabilitating existing berths and to invest in capital equipment, such as cranes and porticoes, in order to improve the company’s operational efficiency and increase productivity.

The company is also establishing strategic alliances with appropriate multinational companies active in niche markets not served directly by Unicargas itself, Mr N’Dombasi mentioning particularly heavy, voluminous freight and freight of non-standard format.

Another market thrust is to have representation arrangements in place in major ports across the world, another strategy for extending market reach.

Investment in the company’s people through training and skills upgrading is also very high on the agenda with a number of training programs in place with external institutions, especially with ports from other Portuguese-speaking countries, covering such subjects as port management, safety in terminals and handling of cranes. The emphasis on providing learning opportunities for staff even extends to the company investing in masters’ degrees for selected staff at local Angolan institutes, certainly a demonstration of a serious and clear commitment to attaining excellence.

Angola is today the United States’ second-largest commercial partner in sub-Saharan Africa with bilateral trade of $10.2 billion in 2013. Mr. N’Dombasi states that, “currently Angola exports oil and diamonds and imports food, equipment for the oil sector and different kinds of machinery”. He sees great potential for foreign direct investment in Angola’s growth and development and its economic diversification beyond a reliance on the oil sector.

Mr. N’Dombasi adds that “Angola has a vast range of opportunities in agriculture, industry, training and the sciences” and that he is looking forward to the already close commercial relationship between the two countries being strengthened further. Unicargas is ready, willing and waiting for the opportunity to contribute to bringing that about.

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