In Magazine Article, News

By Mary Maushard

Liberian intern

Gathering to say goodbye to Liberian port official Alex Noah are, from left, MDOT MPA employees Shawn Kiernan, Chandra Chithaluru and Barbara McMahon with Alex Noah, Morris Koffa of the Maryland-Liberia Sister States Program and MDOT MPA’s Bill Richardson and Valerie Severn.

Alexander Noah got a crash course in the Port of Baltimore, with broader lessons on port management. Now he’s home in Liberia, hoping to spread what he learned and bring about improvements in Liberian ports.

Noah, who manages the Port of Greenville for the National Port Authority of the Republic of Liberia, spent two weeks with the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA) through an informal internship. He toured the marine terminals and Cox Creek Dredged Material Containment Facility and attended meetings with the Baltimore Port Alliance, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Solutions, Ports America Chesapeake and the staffs of the Maryland Department of the Environment and MDOT MPA.

“I can equate this two-week training to almost having a master’s in port management,” Noah said. “The knowledge gained was tremendous, and the interactions were friendly and professional.”

He pointed out the “impressive and coordinated” security at the Port, how MDOT MPA helps manage its partners’ understanding of state and federal laws, the long-term planning and the importance of communicating the good news about the Port to many audiences.

“These are things I’m going to carry to my management, and then we will be able to discuss them,” he said.

“I think he had a breadth of opportunity to see many aspects and components of the Port. We are pleased to be able to offer that to him. He was absolutely delightful to have here,” said Barbara McMahon, Manager of MDOT MPA’s Safety, Environment & Risk Management Department.

Noah’s visit was an outgrowth of the GreenPort Congress in Baltimore last spring. He was a member of the Liberian delegation that attended and networked with industry leaders to find ways to improve and expand the ports in the small African nation. From there came the internship offer and a sponsorship from the Maryland-Liberia Sister States Program, which has promoted partnerships between Maryland and two Liberian counties since 2007.

“I couldn’t be more thankful to the Port of Baltimore and all your staff,” said Morris T. Koffa, chairman of that program. “You may not recognize how much impact you have made just by the knowledge you have imparted to us. It’s so enormous.”

Noah acknowledged that the differences between the Port of Greenville and Baltimore’s Port are great. Located on the country’s southeast coast, the Greenville port has just two berths, each 11 to 12 feet deep, he said. It mainly serves the logging industry. That Baltimore can accommodate ships with a depth of 50 feet impressed Noah. Ports in Liberia are also government-operated, and the recent civil war caused great losses and closed ports.

The learning went both ways. “We got a good perspective on the differences between his port and our Port,” said Shawn Kiernan, MDOT MPA’s Environmental Manager.

“I think having the opportunity to be a sister port with Liberia is an excellent opportunity for us to communicate and collaborate. I appreciate the dialogue and the communication we’ve had with Noah,” said Bill Richardson, General Manager of Safety, Environment & Risk Management at MDOT MPA.

After leaving Baltimore, Noah visited the Port of Tacoma, Wash., where he had the chance to see a busy West Coast operation with a markedly different leadership structure, he noted. Tacoma citizens elect the port commissioners, who then appoint a CEO and deputies to run the day-to-day activities.

Noah had high praise for Baltimore’s Port as it has evolved since 1706 and continues to do so. “Based on your foresightedness and the rigorous measures that you have in your planning — even thinking beyond your own life, thinking about your country and beyond your generation — today, it is one of the fastest-growing ports. All you, collectively, make sure that it’s one of the most dependable U.S. ports,” he said.