Equatorial Guinea - Bata Port Project
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Michael M. Phillips reported 05 December 2021 "Classified American intelligence reports suggest China intends to establish its first permanent military presence on the Atlantic Ocean in the tiny Central African country of Equatorial Guinea, according to U.S. officials. The officials declined to describe details of the secret intelligence findings. But they said the reports raise the prospect that Chinese warships would be able to rearm and refit opposite the East Coast of the U.S.—a threat that is setting off alarm bells at the White House and Pentagon."
Global Times, the Chinese Communist Part run newspaper, argued that it would be “inconceivable” for Beijing to engage in “a strategic great-power game” in the Atlantic, but said China has made big investments in Africa and planned to fight piracy in the region. “If China were to establish a naval supply station for this end, it would be different from what the US has imagined. It will benefit the region without any harm,” Global Times wrote in an editorial piece.
In October 2021, due to increasing US concerns regarding the Chinese military base, Washington also sent the Biden administration’s deputy national security adviser to Equatorial Guinea to block Chinese deployment. A senior Biden administration described the Chinese intention to build a military base in the Atlantic coast as something that “would raise national-security concerns” of the US. The base will allow the Asian giant to have “naval presence on the Atlantic,” according to Maj. Gen. Andrew Rohling, commander of the US Army Southern European Task Force—Africa. Equatorial Guinea is located in Africa's Atlantic coast, a region where the US military has long had a firm hold and does not want to see an adversary like China to gain a strategic base there, compromising US domination.
One of Equatorial Guinea's advantages is its strategic geographical position, which is among the Gulf of Guinea. This could as well be the gateway for the Communauté Économique & Monétaire de l'Afrique Centrale (CEMAC), a market of up to 300 million people. EG’s ports reflect the country’s modern infrastructure and are key to attracting new investments to the country. The development of ports had been rendered obsolete, so the government decided to expand some ports: Malabo and Bata, the two most significant ones, where most of the oil companies' imports go through. All the commodities that companies will bring for the development of a business, inclunding the commodities that will be exported, will go through the ports.
Equatorial Guinea has two international ports, Malabo and Bata. The Port of Malabo was built in 1957. There are two berths, large and small, with a length of 205 meters and 40 meters, and a water depth of 12-13.5 meters. The Port of Bata was built in 1973 and has 2 berths, each with a length of 370 meters and a length of 300 meters, and a water depth of 14-16 meters.
Bata, the largest commercial port and economic center, is located on the west coast of Equatorial Guinea. Bata means "sea" in Fang. It was originally a hunting place for the Pygmies. It was gradually occupied by the Fangs in the 12th century. Bata used to be a black slave trading center. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was only a military checkpoint with more than 200 people. Later, it was mainly used for forestry development. The urban landscape of Bata retains traces of political and social evolution during the Spanish colonial period. In recent years, new buildings in the city have been uprooted, and the newly built seaside promenade is wide and neat, showing the embryonic form of a modern city. Liberty Square (formerly known as Bell Tower Square) is a large gathering and parade center for the masses, surrounded by old colonial buildings. In the center of the square stands the monument to the soldiers who overthrew the Massier regime, and behind it is the Bata Central Market.
The construction of Bata Port Project started in early February, 2009, and the construction period is 65 months. Originated from the Foreign Aid Office of the Ministry of Transport of China and as a pioneer engineering contracting company in China, China Road and Bridge Engineering Co., Ltd. (CRBC) has a history of nearly 60 years since it carried out its first aid task in 1958. Nowadays, more than 60 percent of CRBC’s business is in Africa. By 2017, Bata Port had been all completed; all the unit projects under the contract had been accepted. The owner was promoted to start the preliminary inspection of the project. After its completion, the appearance of port facilities will realize a historical change; the handling operation efficiency will greatly increase; the degree of modernization will realize a qualitative leap, and Bata Port will become the first large modern port in Central Africa, and make the export trade and national economic development of Equatorial Guinea take off.
On 05 November 2012, a 20000t bulk carrier berthed at Bata Port in Equatorial Guinea, marking the success of the maiden voyage of the 50000t terminal of the port undertaken by CRBC and constructed by CCCC First Harbor Engineering Co., Ltd. The reconstruction and extension of Bata Port is a project under the cooperative framework agreement between the governments of China and Equatorial Guinea. With a full length of 570.5 meters, a width of 163.65 meters, a water depth of -14.5 meters and a coastline of 500 meters, the terminal, a jetty in gravity caisson structure, has five berths, including two 50000t berths, two 35000t berths and one 10000t berth. The project was of great significance to improving the throughput of the port in Equatorial Guinea, boosting the modernization level of the port and pushing forward local social and economic development.
Expansion of Bata Port in Equatorial Guinea in 2014 included the construction of four 50,000 DWT and seven 20,000 DWT general cargo berths, breakwaters in total length of 2,433m, and associated facilites in the backup land area. The reconstruction project of Bata port (US$650 million contract value) in Equatorial Guinea was undertaken by CCCC First Harbor Engineering Company Ltd.
When the renovations in the ports of Malabo and Bata – where the government has been mostly focused – started, the initial thing that was mentioned was their depth, so as to know what type of vessels would be able approaching in. Malabo and the Bata ports are 16-18 meters deep, which implies the capacity to bring bigger vessels, such as Panamax ships. These are containerships, which could easily come in without any problems related to depth. When it comes to the types of cranes we have, these are modern ones, in order to expedite processes. In the Bata port, which was renovated by a Chinese company, the government demanded that it should be fully industrialized and equipped, for example in the docking, unloading, containers and cold containers areas; whatever equipment is needed in order to move all the commodities that could come.
Bata is a city with a population of around a quarter million. A series of massive blasts rocked Bata on 08 March 2021. Explosions at a military base left at least 20 people dead, 600 others wounded. The blasts rocked Bata at around 4 PM local time. State television carried images of huge plumes of smoke rising from the military base. Local TV showed rescue teams pulling people from piles of rubble and residents screaming and running through the streets amid smoke and debris. Roofs appeared to have been blown off many houses, even those made of iron. Most residences were left with only one or two walls standing. President Obiang expressed his support for all those affected. The defense ministry said in a statement that a fire at a weapons depot in the barracks caused the explosion of high-caliber ammunition.
President Obiang Nguema said the blasts had been caused “by the negligence of a unit charged with the care and protection of stores of dynamite and explosives” at the Nkoantoma military base. He said the base had “caught fire due to neighbouring farmers clearing farming land by setting it alight, leading to the explosion”. The president has appealed for international aid.
The National Red Cross Society’s initial assessments identified at least 3,900 people (780 households) as directly affected, including 400 households (2,000 people) in Nkuantoma Military Camp, 100 households (500 people) in Mondong, 150 households (750 people) in Razel and 130 households (650 people) in Nkuantoma neighbourhood. This figure was corroborated by satellite imagery from UNOSAT issued on 13 March indicating that some 603 structures were damaged, 238 of which were destroyed and 365 severely or moderately damaged. Many people living within the vicinity of the military camps were able to return to their homes 72 hours after the explosions. However, multi-sectoral needs assessments planned to start from 22 March by the UNDAC team and partners to determine the extent of the humanitarian impact.
On 13th April, the Government of Equatorial Guinea, through the Emergency Committee, and the United Nations launched a coordinated Humanitarian Response and Recovery Plan for Equatorial Guinea following the tragic events of 7M. The Plan aims to provide urgent assistance to some 16,000 women, men, girls, boys and adolescents affected by the explosions through provisions of life saving support (food, health and WASH), as well as support the rapid restoration of access to basic services, support to recovery of livelihoods and rehabilitation of destroyed homes and/ public infrastructure. The plan seeks a sum of US$10.6 million for a period of one year.
The Expeditionary Sea Base USS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB 4) arrived in Bata, Equatorial Guinea for a scheduled port visit, Aug. 24, 2021. The visit included ship tours and firefighting demonstrations for Equatoguinean government and navy officials, as well as community relations activities at local schools. “We are happy to welcome our Equatoguinean partners aboard to observe the firefighting skills our Sailors have developed, and to build their awareness of the capabilities ‘Woody’ Williams brings to maritime security in the region,” Capt. Chad Graham, commanding officer, USS Hershel “Woody” Williams, said. “Our visit here in Bata gives the crew a chance to interact and foster relationships with Equatoguineans on a personal basis, and it gives the Navy writ large a chance to demonstrate its commitment to its existing partnership with Equatorial Guinea.”
Equatorial Guinea is an important partner of the United States in promoting peace and security in Africa. The U.S. works closely with Equatorial Guinea on maritime security and maritime domain awareness. Additionally, Equatorial Guinea participated in exercise Obangame Express in March 2021, which is the largest multinational maritime exercise in Western Africa. These types of exercises strengthen partnerships and allow countries to work more closely on shared transnational maritime challenges.
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