West and Central African maritime project Sealink has received a US$302,000 financial grant from the African Development Bank (AfDB). This is a further step towards the realisation of the Nigerian Export-Import Bank (Nexim) sponsored project, initiated in 2011.

The grant finalises the funding of the Sealink Promotional Company Limited (SPV), which was set up to facilitate the project implementation. It will also be used to “conduct further feasibility studies on the project to extend it to the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), as well as enhance the Sealink promotional activities”, Nexim says in a statement.

The SPV is promoted by the Federation of West African Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FEWACCI), Nexim and Transimex, based in Cameroon. The SPV’s total cost was estimated at US$1.5mn, and was covered by Nexim and other donors, including the Nigerian Shipping Council, the Department of Private Sector of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and now the AfDB.

The US$60mn Sealink project, which aims to improve transport in the region with increased capacity and the opening of direct routes between West and Central African ports, will be “completely funded by the private sector”, SPV co-ordinator Tidiane Traore tells GTR. An equity offering was opened in March 2014, but the original closing date of September 2014 was extended due to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. “We will wait until they recover and their private sector is given the same chances as that given to other countries,” says Traore.

The Sealink board members will decide the new closing date at their next meeting in early April. “Once the board meeting is held, most likely just after the Nigerian election, we will decide on when to close the raising of the capital,” says Traore. They will then evaluate the capital raising effort: “Once we know exactly the level of equity that we have raised, then we will go for the loan for the balance. The equity/debt ratio as desired should be 60% equity and 40% loan,” he explains.

Despite the repeated delays, according to Traore the project will soon be operational: “We do expect that by June the project should be off the ground, we have some technical partner, the Greek Anex Line, who’d like to supply the initial vessels.”

Nexim believes that “the Sealink project would assist in regional integration by mitigating some of the non-tariff barriers in intra and inter-regional trade in Africa.” According to Nexim, the project will assist in reducing the high transportation costs as well as the excessive transit time which make intra-regional trade within West and Central Africa “non-competitive and among the most expensive in the world”, in terms of logistic costs.