By Stephen Ubanna
For years, importers with their clearing agents have had problem of transporting their exited cargoes from the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tin-can Island, Port Multi-services Terminal Limited, PTML, and Kirikiri Lighter, KLT, phases I and II, including the bonded terminals around the port to their various destinations because of the gridlock. The situation is so bad the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, and the Lagos state government had at different times introduced measures to ease the problem on the road for the truck drivers but that was how far they could go. Note that about 90% of the cargoes exited at the Lagos ports go by road to their various locations.
NPA, had introduced barge operations in 2018, to ease cargo evacuation processes at the Lagos ports. Take for instance in 2020, about 750,000 Containers, were aid to have to have been moved by barge. Many consignees and terminal operators were said to have adopted the use of barges in the movement of Containers out of the port to locations where it could be accessible to the importers with their agents to take delivery of it with ease.
According to an informed source, every barge moves about 40TEUs minimum. There are indications that over 90 barge operators have been licensed by the Authority. Perhaps , to ensure that there is more efficiency around the port and also the channels, quality of the barge, standard of the barge and the standard of the Crew members may have informed why the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency , NIMASA, has stepped in.
Bashir Jamo Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh had said that a ‘’-regulated barge operating industry in the nation’s maritime sector is critical to ending the gridlocks on ports access roads in Nigeria’’
The NIMASA, Director General, who had played host to the Barge Operators Association of Nigeria ,BOAN, led by Bunmi Olumekun, the President, may have gladdened the heart of the operators when he stated that “Barge operations have helped ‘’to reduce gridlocks in Apapa, as they are involved with the transportation of container goods from one point to another within the inland waters, thereby putting less pressure on the Lagos roads, while also contributing their quota to national economic development”.
He urged the operators ‘’to invest in modern state of the art barges that can enable them compete favourably with their foreign counterparts’’, stressing that this will help them to remain in the business and protect them from foreigners taking over their jobs.
While assuring them that the Agency will do all it can to promote barge operations as an alternative means of transportation, he enjoined them to brace up in the aspect of training of their members, as this will help them meet up with modern day realities and encourage professionalism in the discharge of their duties.
Hear him: Capacity development is good for the industry players in order to remain relevant, while being able to compete favourably with operators in other climes. ‘’The business of shipping is evolving with increase in technological advancement, hence training cannot be toiled with, in order to remain valuable in the shipping market,” Jamoh averred’’, he had said.
He may have broken the cherry news that the Agency has begun the wreck removal exercise in Nigerian waters, in line with the directive and approval of the Federal Executive Council ,FEC, in order ‘’to ensure that the channels are free for navigation, while also avoiding accidents on the waterways’’.
“ He noted that ‘’this is the first time the Agency has undertaken a holistic approach to wreck removal, cutting across all the zones from Lagos, Port Harcourt among other areas all geared towards safety of navigation”.
In apparent response to the NIMASA Director General remarks, Olumekun, the OBAN, has acknowledged the efforts of the Maritime Regulatory Agency in carrying out its mandate for the growth and development of the nation’s maritime sector, and pledged the continuous support of the association and cooperation with the Agency ‘’towards the realization of the three-point agenda of the current administration’’.
Olumekun, who could not hide his feelings had said ‘’the involvement of foreigners’ in barge operations in Nigeria, is pushing many of the out of business and called on the Agency ‘’to guarantee access to loans at single digit interest rate from the Cabotage Vessels Finance Fund, CVFF, ‘’to help operators acquire state of the earth barges.