African ports strained as Red Sea crisis claims lives of three seafarers


African ports struggle with cargo influx as companies reroute around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid the Red Sea.

African ports strained as Red Sea Crisis claims lives of three seafarers
Aerial View of Tanger-Med port

The Red Sea crisis has created a ripple effect, causing a surge in vessel calls and congestion at African ports in the last quarter of 2023.

As a response to the heightened number of attacks by Yemen’s Houthis in the Red Sea, numerous shipping companies are rerouting their ships to the Cape of Good Hope on Africa’s southern tip.

The trip adds around 3,000 nautical miles and days (if not, weeks) to the sailing times of vessels together with higher fuel expenses and maintenance requirements.

At the same time, the demand surge at African ports has pointed to the widening efficiency gap between African ports and other global regions.

“The Red Sea crisis is highlighting the wide gap in efficiency between ports in Africa and other world regions, despite heavy investment in port infrastructure on the continent over the past decades, particularly under China’s Belt and Road program,” Turloch Mooney, Global Head of Port Intelligence & Analytics at S&P Global Market Intelligence, said.

Despite this growth, several terminals in Africa found themselves grappling with the escalating demands, leading to extended ship waiting times and a decline in ocean and yard productivity across many key ports.

Based on a report from S&P Global Market Intelligence, in the fourth quarter of 2023, business at the main African container ports witnessed a year-over-year improvement, marked by substantial growth in vessel calls and container movements. While this surge reflected a positive trend for the region, it concurrently posed challenges to terminal and port infrastructure.

Overall, the port productivity in Africa experienced a significant setback, plunging by more than 18%, primarily attributed to a pronounced deterioration in vessel waiting times. Noteworthy exceptions to this trend were observed at the ports of Tanger-Med and Mombasa, which not only defied the prevailing challenges but managed to enhance productivity despite a notable increase in container volumes.

However, the general yard productivity at the main African ports witnessed a decline during Q4 2023. Import container dwell times increased by almost 10%, reaching 5.4 days, while export container dwell times surged by nearly 90%, exceeding 8.5 days, the report said.

The consequences of these inefficiencies were reflected in the World Bank–S&P Global Market Intelligence Container Port Performance Index, where almost one-third of the bottom 50 ports were situated in Sub-Saharan Africa, underscoring the persistent challenges impeding the region’s trade sector development and hindering aspirations for more significant involvement in international supply chains.

Red Sea crisis claims the lives of three seafarers

The situation in the Red Sea has taken a perilous turn, intensifying with tragic consequences as it claims its first victims. The recent Houthi missile attack on the 2011-built Barbados-flagged bulker, True Confidence, has underscored the escalating threats in the region. The vessel, identified as a Barbados-flagged, Liberian-owned bulk carrier, was struck by an anti-ship ballistic missile launched from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen on March 6, 2024.

The attack resulted in three seafarers losing their lives, at least four sustaining injuries (three critically), and significant damage to the ship. The crew abandoned the vessel, prompting coalition warships to respond urgently. This incident marks a disturbing escalation, emphasizing the real and immediate dangers faced by vessels transiting through the Red Sea.

“The loss of life and injuries to civilian seafarers is completely unacceptable. Merchant vessels crewed by civilian seafarers transporting global trade have a right to innocent passage through the region without the threat of attack. The frequency of attacks on merchant shipping highlights the urgent need for all stakeholders to take decisive action to safeguard the lives of innocent civilian seafarers and put an end to such threats. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to all those affected by this terrible event,” industry associations, including BIMCO, INTERCARGO, ICS and World Shipping Council, among others, said in a joint statement.

The Houthis, who have claimed responsibility for the recent attacks, cited their targeting of ships linked to Israel, the US, and the UK as a means to pressure these nations to end Israel’s war on Gaza. However, media reporting indicates that on multiple occasions the Houthis targeted ships with no links to the said states, as ships changed ownership, charterers and insurers.

The only way of resolution of the crisis seems to be on a political level, finding a solution for the ongoing conflict to enable further passage through the Suez and the Red Sea.

You just read one of our articles for free

To continue reading, subscribe to WorldCargo News

By subscribing you will have:

  • Access to all regular and exclusive content
  • Discount on selected events
  • Full access to the entire digital archive
  • 10x per year Digital Magazine

SUBSCRIBE or, if you are already a member Log In


Having problems logging in? Call +31(0)10 280 1000 or send an email to