By Stephen Ubanna
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos state and the President –elect, on the platform of ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, who is expected to take over power from the outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari on May 29, 2023, has a major task at hand: To dredge of the Excravos channels and the Warri port, Delta state, to attract bigger ocean going Containerised vessels to the port.
Mohammed Bello-Koko, Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, Managing Director, may have dampened stakeholders’ heart in 2021, when he disclosed that the Warri port breakwaters which had collapsed about 10 years ago, would require a lot of money to fix. He noted that the distillation of the channels had resulted in the reduction of the port draft from 7 meters to 3- meters in some areas, which could not accommodate bigger size ocean-going vessels
There is no gainsaying the fact that when the problems of the shallow draft of the Warri port and the breakwater challenge became more pronounced in 2021, as ocean -going vessels could not visit the port but prefer to drop the south eastern states of Anambra and Abia states Onitsha and Aba based traders respectively , cargoes’ at the Laos ports of Apapa, Tincan Island, Port Terminal Multi-services Limited and Kirikiri Lighter Terminal, phases I and II, that the NPA, helmsman was said to have moved to dredge the shallow depth of the Escravos Channels, for increased daily activities at the Warri port .
Bello-Koko, the NPA, the Chief Executive Officer, CEO, who could beat his chest that with the award of a contract by the Federal government for the remedial dredging of the Excravos channels which would expand the channel and enable bigger ocean-going vessels to visit the Warri port, terminal operators and foreign ship owners have no cause to worry.
The NPA, boss, has reportedly stated that the dredging of the Excravos channels was about half done , stressing that when completed ‘’it would enable the ports in Delta state, particular, ‘’the Warri port’’ to have a bigger draft , to receive bigger ocean-going vessels and record less accidents of vessels running aground. Unknownto many it was a political statement to reduce the agitation for the dredging of the port.
While the Authority had paid lip service to the dredging of the Excravos Cnnnels and the Warri port, the House of Representatives in 2022, had asked the Federal government re-award the contract the contract for the dredging of the Calabar seaport in the Cross river state to a reputable Company with a mandate to complete the project within a time frame after the former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Administration which had had awarded the contract to Messrs. Jan Del Nul and Van Ord at a cost of $56 million but abandoned it in protracted moribund state.
There is no gainsaying the fact that if the such an amount had been pumped into the dredging of the Excrovos shallow channels and the Warri port, MT. Musola, could not have ran aground, at the Excravos channels that has made difficult for ships to come in or leave the port.
Many believe that if the Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting presided over by the outgoing Nigerian President which had met on Wednesday, May 18, 2023, and approved $4.713 billion for the expansion and development of the Ondo state Multi-purpose Port at ILaje, Snake Island in Lagos and Burutu port in Delta state, have also channeled part of the amount towards the dredging of the Excravos Channels and the Warri port, which have been neglected over the years, it would have given Nigerians hope that the Buhari’s Administration is determined to revive the port.
Ademola Adegoroye, outgoing minister of State, Transportation, was said to have given an insight on how the approved $4.713 billion for the Ondo, Lagos and Delta port projects would be spent. According to him, the Ondo, Multi-purpose port project at Ilaje area of the state , would cost $1,480,465,3253 and would be Concessioned for a period of 50 years, with the accruals to the Concessionaire and the government to be at $50 billion and $2.6 billion respectively.
The outgoing minister of state, had said that the development of the Burutu port in Delta state would cost $1,285,318 billion and would be Concessioned for a 40 years period when completed with the Concessionaire and the government expected to reap $25 billion and $9 billion respectively.
He noted that the Snake Island port project would gulp $974,185,203 and Concessioned to a private developper for 45 years. He averred that within the period of the Concession, the Concessionaire is expected to reap $18 billion while the government on its part will generate $5 billion.
In spite of the fact that the Excravos Channels and the Warri port has not been dredged to the appropriate depth to accommodate bigger size ocean –going vessels, one of the terminals was said to have been Cocessioned to Julius Berger, which terminal, according to an official of the terminal receives mostly Chartered vessels.
Another Concessionaire that was said to have won a bid for development of the Terminal B, old Warri, was the SIFAX Consortium, Ocean and Cargo Terminal Services Limited, under the chairmanship of Taiwo Afolabi. The Concession which was valued at about $25 million, according to a top NPA, and the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, officials was for a period of 25 years at an annual fee of $1.621 million . This is in addition to an entry fee and monthly throughput fee chargeable on the volume of cargoes handled.
Stakeholders had expected business activities at both the new and old Warri ports to pick up but that is not be . The industry stakeholders may have come to the conclusion that it is still the responsibility of the government and NPA, to dredge the shallow Excravos channels and not that of the Concessionaires. There are indications that at present the two major Concessionaires at the Warri port are more concerned in dredging their areas of operations to ensure that the vessels visiting their terminals berth freely without any problem.
Officials of the SIFAX Group Consortium and Cargo services Limited may have been disappointed with what they saw on saw when they took over control and Management of the old Warri port, Terminal B, from NPA, Ddescribing ‘’the issue of the port as a very long one’’.
Informed sources told The Value News that the old Warri port, Terminal B,may be functional but only for wet cargoes that are carry petroleum products. Compt. Babatunde Olomu, Area Controller, Edo/Delta Command, has confirmed that much of the Petroleum produchs consumed in the country are imported though the old Warri port under the control and management of SIFAX Group and Cargo Services Limited.
At present, the Terminal operator may not be paying into the government coffers the entry fee and monthly throughput fee chargeable on the volume of cargos handled because liner vessels that carry General cargoes or Containerised cargoes are not coming to the port on a regular basis.
Between January and much of May 2023, only 25 Containers , were said to have been handled at the port compared to the thousands of Containerised cargoes that passes through the two Lagos major seaports, Apapa and Tincan Island ports. As at this May, only one chartered vessel was said to have berthed at the Julius Berger Terminal.
stakeholders had said that the Warri port as it is now would not be able to compete with the Lagos and other ports in the neighbouring West African countries, because the ships that come into the ports today are those of more than 16-meter draft.
The Ports of Cotonou, Benin Republic, Cameroun, Togo, and Ghana, were said to have increased their draft level to 19-meter draft level. Although , the draft level of the Lagos ports are still much better than that of the Warri port with its 11- meter draft level, but it can still not accommodate bigger ocean –going vessels, like the Panama vessel.
Dada Labinjo, a ship owner , may have given insight into why the Nigerian ports, particular, Warri port, are not functioning as expected compared to other neighboring countries ports. Hear him: the government officials Concessioned the ports to themselves and their cronies, provide the money for the dredging of the port which they spent without doing anything.
Labinjo, had said that the Warri port cannot receive ships with nothing more than 5-meter draft. He noted that when he sailed to the Warri port between 1996 and 1997, he touched a button, but was lucky that the ship did not become grounded.
He may have sent a message to NPA and the Nigerian government that as long as the Warri port continue to have shallow draft’ there is no way a deep ocean-going vessel will visit the port. He was emphatic that ‘’There can be no good service in Warri port because I the draft is shallow’’.
He was of the views that though , deep ocean-going vessels are not going to Warri port , due to the shallow draft, but noted that Nigeria was losing a lot of cargoes to the neighbouring countries in the West African sub-regions due to the shallow nature of the country’s seaports drafts. He is optimistic that the Warri port will get the desired patronage when the draft could be dredged to get to the minimum level recommended by the IMO, to accommodate bigger ocean going vessels. Maritime stakeholders are awaiting to see what the former Lagos state governor would do at the Warri port as the next President of Nigerian for the for the next years.