The Georgia Ports Authority and the National Port Authority of Liberia on Wednesday entered into a partnership to share expertise and information and expand international trade.
Liberia, an African nation of 3.5 million people, is struggling to rebuild after two civil wars, with the fighting ending in 2003.
Matilda Parker, managing director of the Port Authority of Liberia, moved back to her country 18 months ago after 26 years away. While living in the United States, she received an executive master’s degree in business administration from the University of Texas with an emphasis on port management.
She returned to Liberia at the request of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was elected in 2005 and is the first woman to serve as a head of state in Africa’s modern history.
“If we don’t rebuild Liberia, nobody else will,” Ms. Parker told GlobalAtlanta in a telephone interview from Savannah, where she signed the partnership agreement. “The country needs us right now.”
Liberia’s four ports are steadily improving, said Ms. Parker.
“The Port of Monrovia actually just passed its international shipping and ports standards compliance, which means it meets international standards from a security perspective,” she said. “Just this July, we went from security level 2 to security level 1, which is huge for a country in this region.”
In April, a cruise ship docked at the Port of Monrovia, which was a sign of growing confidence in Liberia’s security, said Ms. Parker. There were only 25 passengers aboard, but another cruise ship is arriving Aug. 6.
“It’s coming with 400 passengers,” said Ms. Parker. “That’s a clear exhibition of the international community’s seal of safety.”
The Port of Monrovia handles 90 percent of the shipping in Liberia, with iron ore a major export. There are also three smaller ports. The Port of Buchanan is in good shape and iron ore producers have pledged to help improve it. Iron ore from neighboring Guinea is scheduled to be transported by rail to Buchanan for export, said Ms. Parker.
The Liberian government is conducting a major rebuilding effort at Greenville and Harper ports, which deteriorated during the wars.
“Vessels still go the Port of Harper, but there’s a wreck in the Port of Greenville that’s blocking the entrance,” she said. “Until that is moved, which is planned for the next 90 days, we can’t have vessels entering into the basins.”
Liberia has much to learn from Georgia ports, said Ms. Parker.
“The efficiency of their operations, I am hoping that I learn from that,” she said. “They use a lot of state-of-the-art technology. I hope to learn from that as well.”
Cynthia Blandford Nash, Liberia’s honorary consul in Atlanta, attended Wednesday’s signing of the agreement with Liberia. Melvin Sirleaf, the president’s grandson and a Morehouse College graduate, is interning with Ms. Nash this summer.
The Georgia Ports Authority has similar partnerships with the Suez Canal Authority, Panama Canal Authority, Shanghai International Port Group, Sydney (Australia) Ports Corp., the Port of Veracruz in Mexico and the Port of Shimizu in Japan.
More than 3,100 commercial ships are registered in Liberia, in part because it offers lower taxes and fees, said Chris Hewer, spokesman for the Liberian Registry, which is administered by a U.S. company in Virginia.
Delta Air Lines Inc. is launching a direct flight to Monrovia on Sept. 4. Atlantans who want to go on the inaugural flight and trade mission should contact Ms. Nash by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.