In our newest research here, we develop a bi-level super network, which jointly optimizes the selection (or new development) of hub ports along West Africa’s coastline, and a liner shipping network design, serving the trade of West Africa with China.
In contrast to conventional discrete location models, our method relaxes the usual constraint requiring hub port alternatives be listed a priori. This allows us to consider the development of new port infrastructure, in greenfield areas, along the West African coast. We believe such an approach—i.e., the identification of ‘greenfield’ sites—could be of particular interest to infrastructure financiers, such as the World Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, as a port policy blueprint.
Moreover, as many West African states possess no container facilities but instead own attractive greenfield sites with impressive water depths, an approach such as ours, which does not exclude a priori any possibility, would naturally bode well with the legitimate aspirations of these countries.
Our results show that Abidjan, Cotonou, Lagos and Lomé, located in the central part of the West African coastline, could develop into important hubs. Instead, ports in the western and southern parts of the west African coastline could develop into important feeder ports, in a pendulum type of network design, as we demonstrate. Interestingly, we also find that, as the number of routes increases, the structure of the liner network changes from circular to hub-and-spoke. Finally, the networks we design and present in our paper show how shippers’ path choice behaviour interacts with liner network design and the location of hub ports.