Lagos ports have become a burden to the city residents as well as the port users as a result of the perennial traffic gridlock. It is open-secret that utilization of the ports in other parts of the country, especially the Eastern ports could decongest the Lagos ports and eliminate the traffic along the Apapa and Tin Can ports access roads, however several challenges have made this viable option only a theoretical knowledge.
As part of efforts to correct this problem, the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping (NCS) held a strategic meeting where experts analyzed the challenges ranging from insecurity to natural impediments, political will, corruption and politics, among others.
While the resource person from the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Capt. Ihenacho Ebubeogu opined that the fate of the Eastern ports have been thrown in limbo as the emergence of larger vessels with deeper draft as well as the potentials of economics of scale with bigger vessels make eastern ports unviable.
With most of the Eastern seaports averaging 8m draft, Ebubeogu had a valid point because shipping giants all around the world use vessels that require over 15m draft. However, his candid point was disputed by another speaker at the event, Admral Dele Ezeoba (Rtd) as well as the former President of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) Chief Eugene Nweke.
Admiral Dele Ezeoba (Rtd), lamented that political will to optimize the potentials of the Eastern ports and not economics of scale crippled the ports, adding that one of the ways to make the ports more functional would be dedicating them as specialized ports for specific cargoes.
On the fact that the ports were not built to adequately accommodate the large number of activities and large vessels prevalent today, he stated that there was no provision for scale up.
“In the initial engineering design of the ports, there should have been provision for a scale up knowing that at the time you are building that port or infrastructure to support it, this is benchmark. with which it is done but you must provide a scale up knowing that the numbers will increase” he said.
“What it means is that in the planning process, if it is not articulate and defined within the content of the parameters which is data driven, then you will have issues. I take a ship for instance if you build a ship in1946, for as long as that ship continues to undergo what we call major refit programme there is nothing like an old ship,” he noted.
Contrary to Capt. Iheanacho Ebubeogu’s opinion that the structure of these ports built in the 1970’s had been overtaken by modernization, Chief Nweke lamented that political will had been the bane of the Eastern ports, a problem he said was bigger than the security challenge in the region.
Nweke disagreed with Ebubeogu on the position fact that the channels leading to these ports could not be dredged below 10 meters so the ports have become moribund, Nweke stressed that even with the emergence of deep seaports, the Eastern ports would still be relevant to service the region.
“It is difficult for you to go beyond 10 meters because of two things; one, the architectural design when General Gowon was building those ports ships were big but today there are bigger” Ebubeogu had said.
If NPA’s notion that natural impediments of the ports limits the possibility of dredging beyond 10 meters, what is the explanation for the Calabar port which is below 7 meter draft despite the promises of NPA to maintain the port at 9.4 meter when it concessioned the port over a decade ago?
On the issue of security, Admiral Ezeoba had admonished the government to address the socio-economic threats, environmental challenges and the wellbeing of the citizens in the region noting the government’s negligence on those factors gave birth to piracy and armed robbery at sea.
The channels of the Eastern ports need to be dredged. There should be requisite incentives to encourage patronage of such ports and welfare and development of those in the host communities and environs should be paramount as a lasting solution to piracy.