Eastern Ports: Theft Of Buoys Along Channels, A Key Challenge To NPA – Bello-Koko

Eastern Ports: Theft Of Buoys Along Channels, A Key Challenge To NPA - Bello-Koko
Bello Koko


The Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Mohammed Bello- Koko, at the State House briefing recently provided updates on the strides being made by NPA in line with the Authority’s mission to deliver efficient port services in a safe, secure and customer-friendly environment. He also responded to questions bordering on the operations of the ports in the country. Enjoy it.

When will the NPA start transporting cargoes by rail? 

Actually, our intention of transporting cargoes using the rail has already commenced. It commenced about a year ago but I know that the Nigerian Railway Corporation needs more stock in terms of the load that they need to carry more containers. But I know that recently the Federal Minister of Transportation in a certain meeting had talked about the need for Nigeria Railway Corporation to restock; the need for Nigeria Ports Authority and Nigeria Railway Corporation to also sit down and work with other dry ports in the hinterland towards ensuring that when their cargo comes into the ports, the trains are actually used to evacuate those cargoes. But I can assure you that that has already commenced.

You mentioned some of the new ports NPA is developing and we do know that the country has some ports that are not effective, for instance the Calabar ports. There has been controversy over the dredging and there’s an allegation that because of man knows man syndrome, the contractor that was given the project has abandoned it and nothing has happened. So what is happening with Calabar ports?

For Calabar port, we all know that there’s a court case. A very old court case before this government came into power between the Nigerian Ports Authority and the company that was awarded the contract. There was an issue that has to do with whether the dredging was done in that period or not. The matter is subjudice but I would like to address it. In recent times, we have explored the possibility of an out of court settlement between the Nigerian Ports Authority and the said company. Until that is done, actually, nothing can be done. But currently what we are working on is how to survey the channel itself to actually determine the current draft of the channel from beginning of the channel to the end. And we will pay attention in terms of rehabilitation of the keys in that location and the port facilities. But the out of court settlement is ongoing, the Minister of Transportation is looking at it with Nigerian Ports Authority. And I believe that before the end of the year, we should find a workable solution to that court case.

Recently in August, a vessel carrying crude found its way into our waterways and was arrested. It is believed NPA has been aware of the movement of the vessel that was arrested. What really happened that you were unable to know the movement of that vessel?

Now, the intelligence persons bringing in vessels with crude, one of the things they do is that they shut down the AIS. This is what is needed in terms of transmission for you to even know when the vessel comes in, and the locations they go into. They come in legally but then they go by the left hand side to commit illegal activities after switching off the AIS. And in my presentation, I have mentioned that we are going ahead to deploy what we call the VTS, and we are working with NASA to also have information in terms of vessel movement. Once we are able to do that, I believe movements of vessels into the country will be impossible, it will be very difficult for them to come into the country without being monitored. Some of these systems, even if you switch off your AIS today and switch it on in the next six months, once you switch it on, it will actually show the person looking for that vessel, all the locations that vessel has been and for how long and in what dates. And this is what the Nigerian Ports Authority needs. This is what the nation needs. Smaller African countries have had this thing for so long. And it is now that we are working to ensure that these systems are deployed in Nigeria. We have the support of the Federal Ministry of Transportation. The minister has made it one of his core mandates, I think one of the low hanging fruits as he calls it, and he’s working with us closely to ensure that this is deployed.

Many Nigerian exporters prefer to go to the Cotonou Port, possibly for efficiency sake or in terms of cargo management. Some of the reasons for this as told by the former transportation minister earlier this year are that in Nigerian ports, you have red tapes, rent seeking, illegal charges among other factors. Why have these issues persisted and what can pledge that this administration by way of getting rid of menace? 

In my presentation and I did that purposely because I needed everyone to understand the responsibilities of the Nigerian Ports Authority. The Nigerian Ports Authority does not handle cargo, it is the terminal operator. Our responsibility is to bring in the vessels. However, now what is the process of cargo exports? One of the things they have complained about is the NXP form, which is under the Central Bank of Nigeria. Some of it is a cargo examination by the Nigerian Customs Service(NCS). Some of it is the documentation. The documentation forms that exporters have to fill is very cumbersome. And I know that the Nigerian Ports Authority, and Nigeria Customs or other government agencies are working together to deploy the national single window and other platforms that will make it easy and reduce the quantum of documents that you need to fill whether you’re importing or exporting. The information that the Nigerian Ports Authority is interested in could be the volume or the weight of the cargo, while another government agency is looking for the type of cargo in order to discharge the time. So why can’t we have a single document that will have all the information that all the government agencies need at once and I think one of the mandates given to us recently is for us to work together, Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigeria Customs Service, the Central Bank of Nigeria to ensure that we streamline this documentation, reduce red- tape and ensure that exports actually get out of the country as quickly as possible. However, that’s why we also created the Export Processing Terminals. Every export processing terminal is supposed to have the Nigeria Customs Service, the Standard Organisation of Nigeria, there. All the government agencies that certify any export are supposed to have a presence at those export processing terminals. That means all the red tape will be reduced and this cargo will actually get to the port sealed in a container and ready to go. This will resolve some of the problems.

We have been having regular discussions and meetings with exporters, and they have bought into this idea, and they have seen it as an initiative that will actually reduce red tape. But what we need is the support of other government agencies for this to work. The processes are not just that of the NPA; there are various and many agencies involved in this and what we require is for other government agencies to also work with us to ensure that this is resolved.

So I pledge to you that we will deploy and ensure the Export Processing Terminals we have licensed are working. We have given out 10 licences and our intention is that after six months, anyone that does not meet our requirements, we will delist that terminal and give licence to other Nigerians that are interested. We’re not going to be issuing extra processing terminals as licences, to avoid the drama; we really need them to work, we need them to be active. Recently, the Nigerian Customs have actually posted Customs officers to some of these export processing terminals and other government agencies are also deploying their officers to go there. There will be scanners, Way bridge etc. It is like a port but strictly meant for exports. And I think we’ll get to the end of this shortly.

The NPA recently revealed that 18 terminal operators at the nation’s ports owe the Federal Government about N490 billion. What are you doing to ensure that the terminal operators pay the money into the government’s coffers? 

On the issue of the N490 billion debt; so what NPA has is a relationship with multiple stakeholders, whereby some of them are owing you today, they are not owing you tomorrow and so on and so forth. The figure you have is that of a certain date, but as at the date it came out, these liabilities have been recovered. However, there are some liabilities that are not recoverable. So for instance, let’s assume I’ve given you 10 hectares of land, and you’re supposed to pay me N10 million each. And out of the 10 hectares, three hectares you don’t have access to, either because of community encroachment, or either NPA is supposed to have filled up the land and they didn’t fill it up. That means as a private entity, what you do is you automatically pay NPA, for the 70 percent that you have access to. And that 30 percent is what some have accumulated. Some of it actually came up because of the concession agreement that was signed in 2006, which we have reviewed over time, but virtually over 90 percent or so of this so-called liability or debt as at then that is recoverable, has really been covered. There are shipping lines that you enter into relationships with knowing that they are credible. So when you create a situation whereby they deposit a certain amount of money, probably $10 million, for example. And as they are operating, they are deducting and then they replenish that amount. That’s more like a credit scheme. This is because these are people that their businesses just keep happening. They get vessels being diverted from one country to the other. If you wait until they pay money, this is an international practice that every port in the world is practicing. And Nigeria is also practicing that but I can assure you that every recoverable debt out of this amount has been recovered.

The TinCan and Apapa quay aprons are collapsing and they are in a terrible state. What are the plans towards rehabilitating them?  

Okay. TinCan and Apapa quay aprons, yes, are collapsing, but Tin Can is one of the oldest ports. We have done a conditional survey and interim drawings and designs and payment. And one of the mandates given to us by the Minister of Transportation is to ensure that we conclude all the necessary documentation, the review and what have you. So that he will go to the FEC and get presidential approval for us to begin the immediate reconstruction of Tin Can and Apapa ports. However, don’t forget that there are terminal operators that are waiting for allocation. So there are multiple options. The first option is for the terminal operators to rehabilitate the keys, and they recoup their money. But however, not all the terminal operators have the same financial muscle to do it. This is the key for instance, under let’s say about six or seven terminals; if you allow the man in the middle to start the construction without the person next to him, being ready to start, you will create a problem with the integrity of the keys so it must be a planned reconstruction. The other option is for the government to fund it. And of course, the government does not have money, the initial estimate which is going to cost slightly over $400 million to reconstruct Tin Can. So the other option is hybrid, where NPA would borrow the money from a multilateral funding agency. And then using our revenue, we pay for that facility over 10 years. This is being looked at, but the Minister of Transportation has requested that we revisit it with immediate effect and I can assure you that we are taking that instruction seriously and that will then commence very soon.

Of course apart from Tin Can and Apapa, also BUA has been given approval in terms of its design that is in Rivers Port for it to start reconstruction of the key Rivers Port also and we are taking it port by port and ensuring that the necessary reconstructions are done at these various ports locations.

So we expect BUA to start reconstruction maximum in November, all things being equal. Actually, the $1.3 billion I mentioned about Lekki is from the first phase to the last phase.

In line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s sustainable fight against corruption, what modalities are you putting in place to check sharp practices among agents or clearing agents that might collaborate with some of your staff to deny the government of revenue. What measures are in place to check that?

So like I said, NPA does not handle cargo anymore, it is the terminal operators that are handling cargo. So a clearing agent that wants to clear his cargo actually goes to the terminal operator and does his processes. Yes, there are some fees payable to the Nigerian Ports Authority. They are there online. Everybody knows the fees, there’s transparency, a clearing agent cannot ask you to pay more than you are supposed to. That is given. But over 90 percent of what you will pay as an importer is related to either customs duty, or payment to the terminal operators, and so on and so forth. It is the terminal operator that pays Nigeria Ports Authority. However, what we keep doing is the regular stakeholder meetings at various ports locations on a quarterly basis. And then at the stakeholder meetings, we expect everyone that is a stakeholder in our industry to come in there and get information and give feedback. Our website is interactive. Our SERVICOM department is doing a very good job. And we’re ready to answer any questions and inquiries as the need arises.

Your revelation of stolen buoys along the eastern waterways is serious, because Nigerians have been wondering why there’s so much concentration at the Tin Can and Apapa ports and why we don’t diversify in such a way that you can have access to the eastern ports and decongest the Lagos ports. And now you are talking of stolen buoys on the navigational waterways; how serious are the operations that are carried out there? Can you put a figure in terms of the losses and what you have done to replace these buoys?

The loss of buoys is very, very serious. So everybody here probably has a google map. If you go to a city, you use google maps to find your way somewhere. The buoys are the markers that are replacing Google Map on the channel. We have gone to so many fora where shipping companies, for instance, the Greece Shipping Association say that they don’t want to go to Nigeria, especially Warri and Calabar because of the absence of these buoys. You need those buoys for you to know where to meander to. A vessel can meander one meter to the left and it goes aground in the absence of those buoys. And the theft has been there for so long. What we have done is to reach to the communities and plead that these metals we are seeing cost millions of Naira. They are not to be scrapped, those that steal them actually turn them to scraps. And what we’re saying is please leave them where you find them. When these ports are operational, it brings economic activity to the community that are involved actually. From our measuring standard, those who are stealing these buoys do not have the interests of the local communities where the ports are located at heart. We do the best we can whenever we procure. The procurement process is quite cumbersome and difficult. But we always buy in bits one or two extras. And then we replace it. But some of them nature takes them away, or they go adrift. But when you check, you find their location because they have transponders, they have locators on them, you can easily find them. But the ones stolen by the communities are turned to scraps. And I think three or four months ago, we deployed some and in less than a month two were missing already. You know, so we are pleading, we are using this avenue to plead with community leaders, youth associations in those ports, in fact every port community, we are pleading that please the buoys you see, are a critical and integral part of the operations of the ports, the captains will not come to those ports if those buoys are not around. They are very expensive to purchase and deploy and even the deployment of those buoys takes a lot of work. So to answer your question, we are losing a lot of money, because we find that the cost of doing business in those ports is very high. Because there are captains that have been used to the channel for so long, but very few of them want to come there. They are taking risks by coming there. So imagine if they’re supposed to be 60 buoys on the channel, and they are only 29 or 30. That means he’s just going to aggregate, it’s quite difficult maneuvering this water, the water is murky, the channel is long, which makes it more difficult.


Concerning what you said about none detection of vessels, you tried to explain that and there are some instrument that can be turned off? How does it just happen that many years of the Buhari administration we had losses owing to this AIS? How come it was not taken seriously? Do you sense any deliberate sabotage of the system? 

Let me put it this way. Wherever you have such criminal activities in the waterways and the detector is switched off, whether it’s in Nigeria, Cambodia, America, wherever it is, it will remain undetected. But what others have done is to deploy technology that will ensure that it does not happen and that is what we have been trying to do. What I tried to explain is as long as the vessel is getting into our channel and is calling at a location monitor managed by the Nigeria Port Authority, we will know it is coming. But when it enters into the channel, it goes to distill crude we are not monitoring; what it is loading or offloading. Ours is that it has come into the channel and it is going to so and so location and it actually goes there.

Our investigation has shown that they go to those locations and then depart and go where they are not supposed to before they now go offshore. We are working with the Nigerian Navy, the NNPC and other government agencies to actually fight crude theft and actions taking and there are initiatives that have been deployed in the past… not too long ago, we actually brought reduction in this theft. We’ll keep working with relevant government agencies to ensure that this does not happen. So when you say that there is sabotage in the system, it is not the system that is sabotaging; it is those outside the system, those who are interested in the crude theft that are actually doing some of these things.


What technology is being deployed?

I’ve told you that the Vessel Tracking System (VTS) is one of the things we need and the ports community system helps in documentation. The VTS monitors everything. We’re also working with NASDRA, the Nigeria Airspace Research Development Agency, getting satellite feeds towards revenue generation.


How much does it cost to procure such technology?

It is not the cost of procurement. For the past 10 years, the Nigerian government and NPA have been trying to procure it. There are very few recognized consultants, we have done three international adverts, we finally decided to go to IMO. IMO was the one that eventually recommended a consultant who started and then pulled out. And then we now finally have got approval to engage a certain consultant. But then we realized that NLNG already has the VTS but along their own channel. It doesn’t cover everywhere, a VTS is supposed to cover all the navigational aids nationwide. And that’s what we are working on how we will ensure that this is deployed. The Minister of Transportation along with the Port Community System are all on the same page on this. This is what will help NPA perform its responsibilities. And we will also share it with other government agencies. And don’t forget that activities in the waterways are also monitored by other government agencies and I also mentioned that NIMASA is also deploying the deep blue sea assets to those locations to mitigate against all these unscrupulous activities.


Are you saying this will be done before the end of the administration, because it took seven years to accommodate the lack of it?

NPA has been trying to procure VTS for over 10 years before this government came in and I have explained that the problem is the procurement. So, I believe before the end of this administration, Nigeria should have a VTS all things being equal. We have achieved more in terms of deployment of VTS now, than has ever been achieved. The fact that we have finally gotten a certified consultant that will take responsibility, the consultant needs to go through all the channels, they need to do their studies, they need to deploy anodes and sensors and link it onto our signals stations and so on and so forth. We have found a consultant that is ready to do that. So what we need to do is to expand it and we have the necessary support of the Federal Ministry of Transportation to ensure that this is deployed as quickly as possible.


So what is AIS?

AIS is an Automatic Identification System. So every vessel has what they call an IMO number. So the AIS is on the vessel. Yes. The VTS is a deployment of a system. The vessels are into dark activities, switch off the Automatic Identification System so you can’t identify them. That is the AIS.


Do you see Nigeria, dredging major rivers? Is the NPA actually partnering with the National Inland Waterways, and other relevant agencies, to achieve this ambitious plan of dredging these major rivers for the connectivity of our major ports, and their efficiency?

Dredging of rivers is the responsibility of Nigerian Inland Waterways. So what we are doing is to have a synergy where we ensure that our dredging activity gets to where they will pick up from to ensure that there is easy evacuation of cargoes. But that line is being worked on. There are so many tributaries and distributaries, you can’t just go dredging everywhere, there needs to be a proper map location. And they will need to find some of the shortest places. In some instances, rather than following the river meandering around, it is better you just cut through, reduce navigational time and so on and so forth. But we are working with NIWA and we’ll give them all the support, we have a hydrographic department, we have the dredging unit, they are very well equipped, well experienced and it’s as old as Nigerian Ports Authority actually, and we will give Nigerian inland waterways all the necessary support they need, we have been collaborating with them already.

A couple of clarifications. First, you said half a year, NPA has generated over N172 billion. But checks revealed that that figure was for August. Is it that no revenue has come in since then? And talking about the buoys that are missing on the eastern corridor, don’t we have technology that can also monitor these buoys that we deploy that is expensive and difficult to put in place? And the VTS you mentioned, is it also going to cover these buoys and finally you talked about the Onne ports being the fastest growing ports in Nigeria; why is it the fastest one to Nigeria?

The half year report given is because naturally in accounting, you take quarters, so I took that as a half year report but of course revenue has been generated since August and we can send that to you.

On the buoys technology and why can’t we stop the stealing? So at the point of stealing it, they pilfer it, it has a sensor up there. I wish I could show you. So immediately after the main iron at the top is actually a solar panel, some of them have solar panels. And then you have the sensors. And there is a beacon of light there that flashes at night. So the first thing they do is to vandalise that sensor. And then you just have iron that has no light. And they can just drag it, cut out the singers and what have you. That is what they do. We can monitor it if it is not disconnected. So that’s where we actually can find those that have gone adrift. Those that have been taken away by nature, as long as they’re not destroyed at times we send our boats to go round scouting for them. And to also be fair to the communities, we have had some instances where the buoys were naturally taken away by nature, they went adrift, they ended up on the shore of some communities. And to be fair to them, they have actually called us a couple of times to tell us that there’s a buoy that has gone adrift and it is in our community. And we thank them for that. We thank them so much. We believe most of the individuals involved in this probably the communities do not even know they are involved in these activities. So yes, we are monitoring the buoys and that’s how we get to know how many are stolen any day it’s stolen. Because the captains are also taking vessels in and out of the Channel, they will naturally know that I can’t find the beacon on this buoy. Something is missing here and they normally report it.

In terms of Onne being the fastest growing port. What I’m saying is in terms of percentage throughput , Onne has done 11,800 metric tons half of this year. We are seeing that the increase in percentage is high, probably because it’s easier to do business in Onne now. And of course, naturally because we have deployed more equipment in Onne, more personnel, we have paid attention to ensure that we made the port more competitive. So that’s what I meant by that. In terms of export also, there’s an export processing terminal within Onne itself. One of the terminal operators created an export processing terminal which we licensed and they have all the equipment, the technology and the processes to send it out. One of the terminal operators have also expanded their terminals, they have spent about $100 million in terms of terminal expansion, that is West African Container Terminal and so they have created more stacking areas there which will collect more cargo and they don’t have space problems actually. And they have newer equipment, they have cranes, they have RTGS, and so on and so forth. So probably, if you’re able to sell your cargo and clear it faster in Onne naturally, you’re likely to go there also.


Early this year, there was a report that before May or thereabouts, the dry ports for Funtua and Kano will become fully operational and we also know that these are also efforts to decongest the ports that have become a problem. How are these dry ports performing?


The issue of inland ports, Nigerian Shippers Council is responsible for the setting up operations at the inland ports. However, I know that there is a collaboration between the inland ports and our terminal operators, what we have requested the terminal operators to do is to enter a relationship with the inland ports. So that an inland port, say in Ilorin, in Sokoto, or Onitsha or wherever, let’s say the port of destination will be Onitsha but of course, it will naturally come through one of the ports either Lagos in Apapa or Tin can. So, that relationship is there, some of them are talking about APMT, others are discussing with other people, there are issues to do with the tariffs and also in terms of payment, the issue of charges for empty containers because of course, we will use containers to send in the cargo to the hinterland, to the dry port. So these are the issues that are being discussed. Some of the terminal operators are requesting bonds from the inland dry ports, some of the inland dry ports are saying don’t charge us double, reduce these tariffs and because for even the dry ports to be competitive, their costs should be as minimal as possible. And we believe that collaboration has worked at least for now we are seeing activity has increased there.


We all know that 97 per cent of containers that come to Nigeria from whichever port ends up in the South East. So what is NPA doing in conjunction with the Nigeria inland waterways, to dredge other rivers to make sure that these containers that are being ferried by road or by rail that are not working at the moment come with their final destination in the South East where 95 per cent of containers that come to Nigeria end up?

So when you dredge other rivers, what you have done is you have increased the length of navigable river paths throughout the country. And we are working with National Inland Waterways Authority(NIWA),they are doing their studies; we are working with them, but for now, what they are using is badges, they are using badges for instance, from Onne to Onitsha; they are using badges to other locations, which we keep encouraging and whenever the need arises, we will continue with our collaboration to ensure that the dredging of those rivers takes place.

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