Plans currently are underway to transform the Egyptian inland cargo transportation sector, reports Business Today, with the goal being to reduce the dependency on trailer traffic along the country’s major highways by increasing the percentage of cargo that is carried cross country along the Nile river.
At present, less than 1 percent of Egypt’s cargo is carried inland waterway transport (IWT). But the government would like to raise that to 5 percent by 2005. In contrast, IWT accounts for 30-35 percent of trans-European cargo traffic, and it is forecast that the figure will rise to 45 percent within 12 years.
After studying the feasibility of IWT for two years, in late 1999, Egypt’s River Transport Authority issued a tender for the routes between Cairo and Alexandria and Damietta, Egypt’s two main container ports. The successful bid was that of Egytrans, and Alexandria-based Company.
According to data provided by Egytrans, 409,665 containers are expected to arrive in Egypt via Alexandria and Damietta by the year 2003, and by 2012 the figure will rise to 751,608. Some 75 percent of all import containers are destined for Cairo.
Egytrans predicted that in its first year as an IWT operator, Nile transport would account for 6.5 percent of the market for containers heading for Cairo. Ultimately, the company believes that a figure of 10.4 percent is achievable.
Egytrans will only begin its IWT operation in 2003, and before then a range of problems will need to be solved. One involves Athar El Nabi port in Old Cairo, which for years has served as a vegetable market. Before that harbor facility can be rebuilt, the vegetable vendors need to be relocated.
According to Hussam Leheta, the chairman of Egytrans, a series of infrastructural problems could also slow the project’s progress. This involves the Nile’s weak water draft, which is 1.6 meters, compared 3.6 meters along the Rhine, one of Europe’s principal waterways. Furthermore, obstruction clearance in Egypt is 5.5 meters, half that of the European standard.
Leheta was critical about the way the government maintains the lock system between Alexandria and Cairo. There currently are seven locks between Alexandria and Cairo, and two more are being installed. The government takes 35 days every year to service the locks, even though it should only take about 10, Leheta stated. Along the Damietta route, two new locks are also being installed.
The unavailability of navigational tools along the waterways is also a concern. Leheta said the government has to install buoys with lights to help the barges navigate. He estimated that all this would cost the government 75 million Egyptian liras (LE). Egytrans would contribute an additional LE 25 million over the coming three years for the sole right to move containers up the Nile. — (Albawaba-MEBG)