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map of the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville)

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The Republic of Congo lies on the northern bank of Africa's second longest river, whence it takes its name. This immense river, second in the world only to the Amazon in terms of the extent of its catchment and the volume of its flow, forms the spine of an extensive fluvial transport network serving the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and their landlocked neighbours, the Central African Republic and Chad. The two Congos' respective capitals — Kinshasa and Brazzaville — face one another across Stanley Pool (Pool de Malebo), downstream of which the Livingstone Falls block navigation to the Atlantic Ocean.

A river convoy leaves Port of Brazzaville (Kinshasa in background)

Numerous communities in the sparsely-populated interior depend upon river transport, both for exportation of produce and for importing the necessities of life: a heavily-laden convoy heads up-river from Port of Brazzaville.

Port of Brazzaville

Unloading hardwood logs at Port of Brazzaville

During a prolonged period of civil unrest prior to the peace accord of 2003, the Port of Brazzaville sustained extensive damage to dockside infrastructure; its problems further compounded by under-investment and continuing difficulties in maintaining navigable depths in the silt-laden Port basin; quays and channels being further obstructed by numerous wrecks.

Despite the restoration of peace, the deteriorating reliability and security of the rail link with the coast, the Chemin de Fer Congo-Océan, continued to hamper recovery in freight traffic volumes; notably in the Port's traditional, and lucrative, cargo of timber - high-quality hardwoods harvested from the vast rainforests of the interior, and a major export earner for the Congo.

Unloading sawn timber on the general cargo quay

The European Union, through its external aid instrument, the European Development Fund (EDF), proposed a programme of support to the Republic of Congo, to enable the progressive revitalisation of the Port of Brazzaville as a key element in regeneration and development of both national and regional (Congo basin) economies. The underlying economic potential for the Port's commercial growth was self-evident.

In order to assess potential effectiveness of such funding, to identify priority projects and to establish an outline rehabilitation strategy, the European Commission called for a pre-feasibility study, to encompass economic, engineering and environmental factors. Andrew Sadleir led the study, carried out in the Congo during October-December 2007, for Paris-based consultant Hydratec. Results included an appraisal of regional traffic potential, and detailed analyses and recommended actions for the civil engineering, operational, commercial, environmental and administrative aspects of the Port's activities.

Congo River Basin - navigation

Dredging in Port of Brazzaville basin, Stanley Pool (Kinshasa in background)

Maintenance of the navigability of the Congo fluvial network is shared between the pays riverains - Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo and Central African Republic - these last two through a bi-laterally sponsored agency, Service Commun d'Entretien des Voies Navigables (SCEVN).

On board one of SCEVN's survey launches

SCEVN, with operational bases in Brazzaville and Bangui (CAR), carries out survey, dredging and maintenance works on two of the major tributaries - the Oubangui and the Sangha - as well as maintaining navigation aids on certain reaches of the Congo itself, and dredging within the Port basin at Brazzaville.

SCEVN dredging plant alongside at the Brazzaville depôt

SCEVN's capital investment has also, for some years, benefitted from support of the EU's European Development Fund (EDF); and in April-May 2008 consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff carried out a study for the European Commission, to examine SCEVN's medium-term strategic rôle, technical capabilities and economic viability. The study also embraced an environmental impact assessment of proposed wreck salvage and dredging operations in the Brazzaville Port basin. Andrew Sadleir acted as Team Leader for the study, based in Brazzaville.

We gratefully acknowledge the helpful assistance of M. Alain Robert of SCEVN

flag: République du Congo flag: Studies financed by European Union's European Development Fund

Fluvial Transport: Congo