· ‘It is not a political decision or policy’
· Stakeholders seek 30 % rebate across board
Inundated with concerns from shippers and stakeholders at the eastern ports over low ship traffic, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has reiterated the challenges limiting the performance of the ports located in the eastern geo-political space, saying it is not a deliberate political decision or policy to deny the region cargo traffic.
A two-day working visit by the management of the NPA to the eastern ports afforded the shippers and stakeholders opportunity to bare their concerns at the poor workings of the ports especially against the background of the development of Lekki Deep Seaport and Badagry Deep Seaport, all located in Lagos, Western Nigeria.
Answering questions at different stakeholders’ fora in Port Harcourt, last week, the managing director of NPA, Mr. Mohammed Bello-Koko explained that apart from security challenge, eastern ports are saddled with infrastructure decay, long channel and its associated problem of dredging, vandalisation of channels’ furniture, problem of breakwaters and high siltation .
Inferring that over the decades the ports have generated revenue without reinvestment in infrastructure upgrade, Bello-Koko said that with the security problem only few and smaller vessels are ready to risk coming to the East. This explains the high cost of shipping associated with their coming.
According to him, “the Calabar port has the longest channel with over a 108 kilometres from the fairway buoy to the port; Rivers port is over 69 kilometers, so the cost of dredging those channels is expensive but we are dredging them. Some of the ports are very old. Rivers ports is over one hundred years old and the engineering designs used in constructing some of them are obsolete. The Warri Port breakwaters has problems and the siltation is high and it also has security problem because of the length of channel.”
The Managing Director said the community people vandalise and scrap some of the channel furniture for pittance. They sell them for between N500,000 and N1million as against millions of dollars paid for them. This is a problem to the channels and the vessels coming to the ports can run into crisis with the removal of those items.
He said, “We are interested in decongesting the Lagos ports. If we have two deep sea ports in the East, it will help the decongestion initiative and change the narrative. So, the Federal Government is interested in seeing the eastern ports work. However, the consignee or shipper decides where he or she receives the cargo. It is not a function of NPA or policy by government.
Bello-Koko also seems to have conceded to the request by terminal operators in the eastern ports to introduce 30 per cent rebate relief for shipping lines to attract traffic. He said the 30 per cent could be adopted as trial as it is subject to review based on performance. He however said it would not be applicable to all ports in the East, like Onne which has encouraging ship and cargo traffic.
Stating a general review of his facility tour with the media, he said, “We flagged off the construction of the road that was part of the port expansion plan of phase 4B that was awarded to the Deep Offshore.
“The road is part of the Phase 4B and the figure is part of the total port rehabilitation that was awarded long ago but was suspended due to some reasons. However, we felt it is time to go back to it.
“It is the main artery into the Onne Port and we have witnessed a major increase in terms of cargo and other businesses into the port and we felt it was time we ask the contractor to go back to site.
“It is 4.5 kilometers long with street lights and others. This is to ease movement into the port while we are complaining about the roads outside the port which is outside our purview, we want to make sure that the road outside the port are in good condition. Deep Offshore has mobilized to site and construction period is about 10 months.
“One of the challenges is security but we are working with the Nigerian Navy to improve security along the waterways and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has deployed assets under the Deep Blue Project that would be used for offshore patrols. We are also working to fence all the open spaces that is resulting to either attack or enchantment by communities and we will ensure that that contract is awarded as quickly as possible.” He noted
He stated further, “The other issue is infrastructure because there is berth that needs to be rehabilitated and the payment is being worked on. We have deployed more equipment to ensure services improve.
“We also visited the export processing plant run by one of the terminal operators. We are doing everything to work with the Federal Government to improve export of non-oil products. The terminal has the capacity to accept, sort and bag export. It also containerize them before sending to the ship for export. It helps to reduce the cost and time wastage for exporters but it also ensures that products are exported fresh.
“We also commissioned some marine craft, which is one of our responsibilities to ensure that we provide pilot cutters and others. All these we are doing to encourage businesses to move to the Eastern Ports to reduce congestion in Lagos Ports and the only way we can do that is to ensure that the Ports are functional,” Bello-Koko added.
While the President of Shipping Trade Practitioners Association, Mr. Isreal Oyina, called on the government at the Rivers Ports’ Stakeholders’ Forum to not only introduce rebate relief on harbor dues but spread it across board to encourage both export and import, he condemned the monopoly of berth 5 and 6 by BUA Terminal Limited for their industrial use which forces commercial vessels to move to Bonny terminal and berth for cargoes destined for Port Harcourt market.
BUA Terminal Limited has four berths but berth 7 and 8 are not functional and are awaiting rehabilitation with engineering designs already completed awaiting site construction approval from NPA.
The security challenge in the region has impaired night sailing and makes it imperative that NPA has to provide accommodation for pilots in event that they arrive late.
Speaking in Onne Port Harcourt stakeholders’ forum, Mr. Kassim Adebisi of Shipping Trade group, complained that some government agencies were not complying with the joint boarding of vessels rules.
In his words:”Some of the agencies don’t comply with the joint boarding of vessels lately. The essence of this is to make vessels’ turn around seamless and fast. We have appealed to some of boarding agencies individually but they would not budge.
“We call on NPA and NIMASA to reduce their terminal charges via a review because it can scare vessels to other ports. If you take a boat ride on the channel you will be amazed at the number of vessels posturing to call at other ports as a result of high tariff. NPA also need to talk to INTELs Services Limited to review their tariff downwards,” Adebisi stated.