Lagos-Onitsha Barge Operations: Shippers’ Council, Barge Operators, Experts Itemize Threats

Lagos-Onitsha Barge Operations: Shippers’ Council, Barge Operators, Experts Itemize Threats
APMT’s Berge

·  Nigerian shippers lost N16bn container deposit in 2018

·  NAICOM sets June deadline to float insurance substitute

By Kenneth Jukpor

As the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) concludes plans to commence barge operations from Lagos ports to Onitsha after granting licenses to eight companies for the service, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), barge operators and other shipping experts have outlined possible challenges.

The Executive Secretary of NSC, Mr. Hassan Bello during an exclusive chat with MMS Plus on Friday last week, warned that the challenge of dredging, charting and security should be addressed ahead of barge operations to Onitsha from Lagos ports.

Bello, however, commended NIWA for the initiative while pointing out that the risks have to be minimized to encourage shippers to patronize barging through the route.

“Barging is good but it has to be regulated. There must be security for cargoes; safety on navigation, there must be insurance and time of operation has be considered. Can we move at night? Are our waters navigable to avoid accidents with barges running into sandbars? All these concerns must be addressed but we must commend NIWA so far,” the NSC boss said.

The President of Barge Operators Association of Nigeria (BOAN), Mr. Edeme Kelikume also raised similar concerns during a recent discussion with MMS Plus newspaper.

Recall that Edeme partnered with NIWA to carry out a test run by moving 16 empty containers to Onne Port from Onitsha River port in October 2020 and subsequently warned that the pertinent issues limiting the river port are yet to be addressed.

“We encountered lots of security challenges as well as navigational challenges. The water needs to be dredged further to aid barge operations, but we can manage to continue doing it for now,” the BOAN President said.

Giving a broad perspective of barging operations in the country, Edeme said: “Today in Lagos waterways, you can move your barges from Apapa to Epe heading to Agbara without fear of being attacked. We have few instances where some hoodlums try to jump on your boat and harass the Captain or break containers, but such cases are very rare. For the Eastern ports to achieve this, NIMASA, Navy, Marine Police and others have to be involved in a collaborative effort.”

Also speaking with MMS Plus, a veteran freight forwarder and shipper based in Rivers, Mr. Sam Epiah said, “The aspect of dredging is also a major impediment and that was why I didn’t believe the initial reports last year that Maersk Line would channel vessels to Onitsha. It isn’t easy to access the Onitsha river ports even with barges. It’s not as easy as it is painted on the pages of newspapers.”

Epiah, who is a member of the Board of Trustees (BOT) of Bayelsa and River States Shippers Association and Managing Director of Cloverleaf Shipping Limited, noted that Julius Berger Construction Company has been utilizing barges from Warri to Onitsha river port for project cargoes for the 2nd River Niger Bridge.

He maintained that the success recorded by Julius Berger should be utilized as a marketing strategy to boost patronage by shippers, even as he stressed that barges shouldn’t be encouraged to move cargoes in the area without sufficient dredging and charting of the waters.

A former Director, Shipping Development at Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Capt. Warredi Enisuoh also told our correspondent that the operation of the river port isn’t possible in its current state.

“In any business the first thing to consider is safety, but there is no safety of navigation to Onitsha river port. The channel to Onitsha is unmarked; hence, an insurance company would have to be stupid to insure such cargoes. What are the provisions for security? Would private security be hired to escort the ship or barge and is that arrangement constitutional? There is a restriction on night movement on the waterways which would affect such barge operations,” he queried.

In a related development, the Executive Secretary of NSC, Mr. Hassan Bello also supported the export of empty containers by barges to neighbouring ports.

Bello told MMS Plus that all alternatives to expedite the return of empty containers by shipping companies should be encouraged and supported.

The NSC revealed that Nigerian shippers lost N16billion to container deposits in 2018 alone, noting that the menace would be addressed in the second quarter of 2021 with insurance set to replace container deposits.

According to him, the June deadline to have insurance as a substitute to container deposit was set by the National Insurance Commission (NAICOM).

While Bello noted that shipping companies, shippers and freight forwarders have already endorsed the insurance alternative, its introduction may require a new legislation which may not be feasible in the second quarter of 2021.

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