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Port Autonome de Dakar: Strengthening Senegal’s Seaport

Located on the most advanced point of the West African coast, the Port Autonome de Dakar (PAD) is in a key geographical position at the intersection of maritime lines linking Europe, South America, North America, and South Africa. Its location aids ships travelling from the North with the benefit of a navigation gain of two or three days compared to other ports across the coast of West Africa. Therefore, PAD has established itself as a key player in the shipping and tourism industries, as it remains committed to developing the port and battling decongestion to expand Senegal’s position in the global maritime industry.  

As the first deep-water port touched by ships coming from the north, the port has been a major player across global shipping industries since the 1850s. However, it wasn’t until 1987 that PAD was established, with its central role of operating and maintaining the seaport of Dakar, whilst managing all vessels and activities that take place across the port. The port provides access to a 13.5-metre (m) dredged channel and a large turning circle with a 500m diameter. It also has a stable and protected harbour with direct access at any time, a 10-kilometre (km) quay length, and a tidal range of 0.2-1.8m. This means the port is perfect for any sized vessel which can be accessed 24 hours a day. The round-the-clock accessibility makes it the perfect stopping point for many vessels, and, consequently, Dakar’s seaport is now the third-largest port in West Africa.  

The port has implemented a range of nautical access and marking solutions, including upgraded navigational aids such as buoys, lighthouses, and security infrastructure to ensure that vessels are safely and securely navigated into shore. The port’s Marine Safety Service is responsible for ensuring this is managed under the Subdivision of Lighthouses and Beacons. This subdivision facilitates a range of operations across the port to ensure that every vessel can safely enter and begin to receive the full range of the port’s services. These services include piloting, which is compulsory for any vessel over 1500m3, and is facilitated through PAD’s 15 long-distance pilot captains, 6 pilot boats and 7 mooring PCs which assist ships as they enter and exit the port. PAD also offers towing, refuelling and mooring options at the port for visiting vessels.  

PAD is also home to one of the largest shipyards on the West African coast, which is home to modern equipment ready to repair and refit a range of vessels. The floating dock is 235m long with a wingspan of 38m and a 28,000-tonne lifting capacity; the rift basin is 191m in length with a 25m wingspan; and a repair dock with a repair quay of 500m with a max draft of 9m and all mooring conditions. These repair services ensure that ships can make all the crucial repairs needed in such a key geographical spot as the vessels make their way across long voyage routes.  

Inside the port, PAD facilitates all loading and unloading operations. It takes goods when they arrive in the port and oversees their entire journey ending in ship stowage or in PAD’s various storage and warehousing areas. Handling of cargo is largely facilitated by entrusted private operators, but PAD oversees all operations to ensure that the goods travelling in and out of Senegal are transported in a timely manner. The speed with which cargo is moved through the port increases the export value of cargo and decreases importing delays. The port has recently seen a large amount of congestion as the demand for importing and exporting across Senegal continues to rise. Therefore, by optimizing external logistics companies, PAD has raised the level of equipment at the Port and increased the handling rate to reduce the amount of time ships need to dock in the harbour. This increases ship turnover and subsequently, the amount of cargo that the port is able to effectively transport on and off ships, and then across the country.  

However, with the increasing demand for imported and exported cargo across the region, PAD has been working with external companies to develop the city of Dakar and its cargo capacity with the implementation of the new Port of Ndayane. The new port will increase Senegal’s capacity for cargo and continue to develop the region as a key seaport hub both locally and internationally, whilst effectively mitigating supply chain disruptions, with the aim to decrease the cost of essential imported goods over the coming years. PAD has been working with the team behind the Port of Ndayane, and last year supplied a range of topographical and IT equipment to help the development. The development is set to take place over the coming years, with a completion date of 2026.  

PAD is not limited to just cargo, instead, it also benefits from a rich tourism industry which is facilitated through the port’s International Maritime Station of Dakar which can accommodate over 800 passengers and provides boarding, storage and catering services for people visiting the port. Furthermore, PAD works closely with the Dakar Gorée Maritime Liaison which is a public service set up by the State of Senegal responsible for ensuring that transport is available to the island of Gorée. The Société Nationale du Port Autonome de Dakar therefore ensures that the operation and upkeep of rowboats for this are maintained across the port, as well as ensuring the safety and security operations of passenger ships to help support the tourism industry to the UNESCO island.  

In more recent news, PAD has welcomed the Global Mercy Ship, the largest private hospital ship in the world which docked at the PAD earlier this year. The large ship has 6 fully-fledged operating wards, 102 acute care beds, 7 isolation/intensive care beds, 90 convalescent beds, as well as a range of classrooms and an auditorium. The ship features a laboratory which means the vessel has the facilities to carry out a range of surgical operations, including maxillofacial and reconstructive surgery, tumour removal, cleft lip and palate repair, plastic and orthopaedic surgeries, cataract removal and repair to obstetric fistulas. The ship remained docked at the PAD as part of a crucial humanitarian mission, for which the port played a crucial role in facilitating.  

Overall, PAD is such a crucial port which has established Senegal as a key hub across the West African coast for its essential shipping and maritime industry operations. Through its range of services, PAD provides a necessary stop for many ships with a range of services, in a specialised geographical location, which continues to meet the needs of almost any vessel. Furthermore, it works to aid in establishing vital links to the tourism industry via cruises and transport between Gorée, whilst also providing a safe and reliable docking station for vessels such as the Global Mercy ship to provide the people of Senegal with essential healthcare needs. Therefore, Port Autonome De Dakar plays such a vital role in Senegal’s development and is set to continue expanding its position in global maritime industries over the coming years as demand for goods is set to continue to increase. Therefore, in its mission to operate and maintain the seaport of Dakar, PAD is leading the way for its expansive services backed by years of rich maritime experience.