By Stephen Ubanna
For years , Shipping Companies and their Agents had refused to take their vessels to Calabar port, one of the ports in the south east because of the shallow draft. The situation was so bad that the port that was supposed to serve importers, particular Onitsha Anambra, and Abia state including importers from the north central geo-political region , land the land lock country of Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon The port ,however, became a shadow of itself as ocean going vessels that could have taken Onitsha and Abased importers’ cargoes port were said to have prevailed on their Customers to patronise the lagos ports of Apapa and Tin can Island to take delivery of their cargoes ostensibly to save the lifespan of their vessels as it could take about two weeks from the High sea to sail to the ports and about three months to sail with their cargoes to Calabar port and ports in the region. It was a big challenge to mrs. Olufumilayo Olutu, the Port Manager, to market the port to Onitsha , Aba and Abariba based importers importers and others from north Central states of Benue and Plateau .
Note that former President Olusegun Obasanjo had given hope of deepening the port channel draft to accommodate bigger ocean going vessels by awarding a $56 million contract to a foreign dredging firm which has the technology to do so in 2006.
The contractor, according to NPA sources, had a mandate of dredging the port Channel to 6 meters draft but the project could not be completed as scheduled forcing as many shipping Lines and their Agents which ought to have prevailed on importers utilizing their services to patronise the idle port to take delivery of their cargoes to settle for the busy Lagos ports.
The situation of the Calabar port was so bad that on November 2014, former President Goodluck Jonathan also awarded another $20 billion contract for completion of the dredging project. The contract, a source said was for the port channel to be dredged to 9.8 meters but that was how far the government could go as it remained a ding dung affair.
With the billions of dollar that was said to have been spent to turn the Calabar port around by former Presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan and nothing to show for it, Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, on assumption of office in 2016, after flipping through the handover documents of his predecessor on the Authority was said to have undertaken an official tour of the port described as a drain-pipe within one month to assess the level of works done on the port channel by the contractor and what still needed to be done to attract bigger ocean going vessels to the port.
She was said to have found out that the major reason why the shipping companies and their Agents find it difficult to put their vessels on the Calabar channel was as a result of the shallow draft , insisting that the that the channel needed to to be deepened r to attract bigger, ocean going vessels, particular flat bottom vessels to the port in order to raise its revenue generation from cargo handling operations.
Indeed, maritime watchers had expected that after her working visit to the port, barely one month in office, she ought to have used use her close relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All progressive Congress, APC, to attract government attention to the completion of the dredging of the port channel . Unknown to many , the NPA, managing Director, has her own agenda on how to turn the fortunes of the port around to increase the volume of its Commercial activities.
As a prelude to putting measures in place to attract ocean going vessels to the port,, she was said to have discussed the matter with the Cross river state government on to patronise the port by ensuring that its cargoes are discharged at the port the shipping Lines carrying it to the country instead of diverting to Lagos ports in order to encourage other Corporate and individual importers to do so to kep the port busy .
The NPA Managinng Director’s efforts to attract flat bottom ocean going vessels to the port may have encouraged Mrs. Olotu, then Port Manager to work on Ecomarines Terminals Limited , Shoreline Logistics Nigeria Limited and other Concessionaires at the port to reach out to their friendly shipping Lines to take their flat bottom trans-shipment cargo vessels ships to the port which could boast of modern cargo handling facilities compared to the Lagos ports of Apapa or Tin can Island.
The terminal operators may have bowed to pressure of the former Calabar port pressure to work on their friendly importers and shipping Lines to patronise the, described as dead in maritime circles. But she could not be at the port to witness the maiden berthing of a Containerised cargoes at the port last September after several years of llull as Mrs. Asean may have taken glory of attracting the flat bottom Container vessel to the port.
Although , she has been transferred to the Premier port Apapa by Hajia Usman, the Authority Chief Executive Officer, CEO, many believe that she had laid the foundation for shipping Agents to take their vessels loaded with importers cargo to the port without dragging their feet any longer. As at Tuesday, October 29. 2019, some seven shipping agents were said to have arrived at the port with their cargo vessels which had already been discharged while the last Rig Queen Delta, which landed with a rig belonging to one of the Offshore Oil Service Companies engaged by one of the Oil Producing and Exploration Companies,expected at the ported with cargo arrived on Thursday, October 31, 2019.
They are Integrated Logistics Nigeria Limited, popular Intels, WAPs, DANIC Investment, St.Jerome Shipping, PAN Maritime, Blue seas and Pejay Shipping. St Jesrome Shipping were said to sailed to the port for times while Pejay Shipping discharged their cargoes at the port twice, a feat had never happened at the port described as a a no go area for ocean going vessels because of the channels shallow Draft.
The shipping Position of the port cited by The Value News shows that the Rig Delta Queen delivered the rig at the port, WAPs , which was said to have been instrumental of MT MATRIX TRIUPH , sailing to the port discharged Automotive Gas Oil , AGO, products , DANIC Investment Shipping, MV SIMOA; Pan Maritime, Calabar Marine, was said to have landed at the port with Imballast cargo, imported by the state government while BLUESEAs attracted MTUNGIESHI vessel with an undeclared cargo.
St. Jerome Shipping , going by the shipping Position report which was the most regular at the port had attracted MV TATIANA, MV GAMBA and MV Queen Esther which were said to have landed and discharged at the port General cargo and the government imported cargo, Imballst. Peejay Shipping, according the Shipping Position report had sailed to the port with IMT, AYSU which landed and discharged low pour fuel oil, LPFO.
This is good news for the Haja Usman led NPA led Management who had been looking for ways over the last four years to attract t vessel to the port to keep the operational Staff busy, particular officials of the port who had been feeling bored over the years for lack of job to do, including Mrs. Olotu, the former port Manager, who is now incidentally the port Manager of the Lagos Port Complex, LPC, Apapa.
Prior to her transfer to the premier port, she was said to have told those that cares to listen, that he had laid the foundation for improved Commercial activities at the port. Until her transfer became known to Staff last June. The port had started noticing changes in the Commercial activities as the berths were getting occupied by vessels calling at port with cargoes.
Given the good work that was said to have been done by the former port Manager, it was said to have received its first maiden Container vessel linked to Marguisa Shipping Line last September.Since then, More flat bottom vessels have continued to call at the port with general cargoes and petroleum products, forcing the stakeholders to appeal to the Katsina state born Nigerian President to complete the dredging of the port channel to the advertised 9.4 meters to attract regular and bigger vessels to the port. The recent berthing of MV Breas at the port speaks volume. It was said to have been achieved through the strategic marketing of Ecomarine terminals limited, one of the terminal Operators at the port.
An agent who spoke to The Value News that that they have never had it so good at Calabar port since its Concession in 2006 with the number of vessels that call at the port with cargoes under the close watch of Mrs Asean, the port Manager. As at October 29, 2019, 12 vessels were said to have called at the port.
The feat achieved by Ecomarine,may have encouraged other terminal operators at the port to intensify their marketing strategy to attract vessels to their terminals to keep it busy.
Many believe that if the shipping Lines and their Agents in Nigeria could patronise the southeast ports of Warri, Calabar and PortHarcourt Area 1, to discharge importers’ cargoes instead of concentrating all their efforts in the Lagos ports, the problem of overtime cargoes would be a thing of the past.
At a recent joint Press conference organised by Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, Hajia Usman, the NPA , boss, and Terminal Operators at Lagos Port Complex, he later disclosed over 1,700 Containerised cargoes are trapped at Terminals in Lagos. The NPA Managing Director, revealed that APM terminal, one of the terminals at the Lagos Port Complex, Apapa, accounts for 1,259 Containers out of the total figure.
An aggrieved Hajia Usman lamented that the Lagos ports have been heavily congested, and does not make for efficiency of operation and timely release of cargoes to importers and their agents. This may have informed why stakeholders have joined NPA authoities and the terminal Operators to pile pressure on shipping Companies in having a rethink in taking their Containerised flat bottom vessels to the south east ports. This because the flat bottom vessels can effectively maneuver in shallow drafts within the port channels.
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