NPA: Moves To Decongest Lagos Ports Of Vessels Congestion As Operators Agree For Vessels To Be Diverted To Delta and Other South Eastern Ports

By Stephen Ubanna

 Aware of the financial  losses   incurred by  Companies, particular, manufacturing Companies , Importers with their Clearing Agents, at the Lagos ports,  Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman, Managing Director,  Nigerian Ports Authority , NPA, has stepped up efforts to solve  the Apapa gridlock by tackling the vessels  Congestion  problem at the Lagos  ports.

The situation at the Lagos ports  appear to have been made worse by the Closure of the borders across the country between Nigeria and the neighbouring countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon, as most transit cargo  importers formerly  patronising  Cotonou Terminal, Benin , and  Bollore port, in the Benin  Republic ,  and other  ports  in the West African sub-region were said to have relocated   to Lagos ports, thus congestion  at the Lagos pilotage district because of the long waiting times for vessels that had berthed to discharge  and leave the port for other vessels to sail to the port and berth.

As a prelude to solving the  recent increase in  the waiting  time of vessels  calling at the Apapa and Lagos port Complex, which according to sources, handle over 90 percent of   vessels,  at the nation’s seaports,  officials of the Authority  were said to have met with  the  Shipping Companies and the terminal Operators to rub minds.  The parties were said to have taken far reach  decisions   aimed  at ‘’immediately  solving  the Congestion  in the Lagos pilotage district.

One of the major decisions that was said to have been taken at the crucial  meeting  of the Operators, according to Jatto Adams, General Manger, Corporate and Strategic Development and the Authority spokesperson  on how  to solve the Congestion at the Lagos pilotage district was that from  Monday, January 27, 2020,’’vessels which  have waited to berth  at any terminal within the Lagos  pilotade district  will be diverted  to the Delta port, Warri, Calabar port, Cross river state, Onne  or PortHarcourt , Area one, in Rivers state.  The Calabar port, which had been Concessioned to ECM, as the terminal Operators, may be out of the  question of the getting any of the vessels to be diverted to the sout eastern ports by NPA, because of the shallow draft  as the parties have agreed that  the vessels could  only be diverted to the  south eastern ports that have   the Capacity to berth such Containerised or bulk cargo vessels.

NPA officials may have succeeded in arm -twisting the Lagos Terminal Operators, who have been smiling to the banks over the years because of  the number of vessels calling  at their respective terminals, particular, APM  Terminal,, at the premier port , Apapa and the Tin-Can Island Container Terminal, by forcing them to agree  that ‘’in the event  that  all the terminals in Lagos pilotage district  cannot discharge   vessel s within four days of arrival at the port , such vessels  will be diverted  to the south eastern ports which had suffered neglect over the years  for immediate berthing’’.

This is a good news for the terminal Operators in the south eastern ports of Warri, particular, whose facilities have been under-utilised  over the years due to lack of patronage. Past and Present Management of the NPA,  may  not  have   had the powers to give approval for vessels meant for the Lagos ports  to be  diverted to  the south eastern ports without the Consent of the shipping Companies and the terminal Operaators.

This is  because  the shipping Companies know the shippers  who decide which of the seaports  in the country to take delivery of their Consignment.  The shipping Companies, according to a senior Customs office cannot  on its own  unilaterally  take  a Shipper’s vessel outside the Lagos ports, which is the first choice of all importers without carrying the shipper along. Many believe that the shipping Companies  had created the problem why  most shippers  prefer to take delivery of their  cargoes in Lagos ports   because  of the tight security in the Lagos pilotage district  compared to the   pilotage district of the south eastern ports.

Perhaps, to encourage the Lagos terminal Operators  still retain their  the shipping Companies calling at the Lagos ports and their  shippers,   NPA , officials were said to have promised to liaise  with other relevant government agencies , particular, Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC and the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS,  to expedite  action in the Clearance  of  such waiting vessels  and discharge of their cargoes  without further delay.

According to Adams, the NPA, spokesperson,  the actions  had been taken  by  the Authority in Collaboration with the   Operators  to promote  the ease of doing business   policy  at the  Nigerian ports by   President Muhammadu Buhari   Administration ostensibly to  curtail the negative  economic impact  that  turnaround  time  of vessels  has on stakeholders.

Not many people were surprised that  Hajia USman , the PA,  managing Director, could achieve  the feat  of bringing  south eastern ports back to life.  Recall that in June 2019, the Hajia Usman led NPA Management  had made  a  bold Statement  to encourage Shipping  Companies  and Agents to take their vessels  to the south eastern ports  by approving  a 10 percent  discount  on Harbour dues  for specific vessels  calling at the  Delta, Calabar, Onne and Port  Harcourt, Area 1, port as a way of decongesting the Lagos ports.

Emmanuel Ihenacho: Former Minister of Interior And ECM, Managing Director

The NPA, boss had clarified the directive  when she disclosed that the vessels   that will enjoy the harbor dues discount  which had already come into force  are  Containerised vessels  with  at least 250  ‘’20’’ equivalent  Units, TEUS,  General cargo vessels with at least 16,000 MT, Combo vessels , with at least 16,000 MT  and Roll-On –Roll-off  vessels with at least 250 units of  vehicles.

The NPA boss  , was said to excluded  vessels  carrying Ballast, without any other cargo as well as vessels  calling at private jetties  and those carrying liquid bulk.

As a prelude to encouraging  the patronage of the south eastern ports, the Katsina state born Nigerian President  had commenced the dredging of Delta ports, Warri, at the cost of N16. 5 billion, in 2018  and equally deployed equipment , worth $30 million to the  port.

 It is also instructive to note that the   Authority has also facilitated the dredging of Calabar ports, which have  had low shipping activities over the years.  Recall that Emmanuel Ihenacho, a master mariner and former minister of Interioy , under former President Goodluck Administration,   and incidentally the Managing Director of  ECM Terminals  ltd , Concessionaire of Calabar Free port , had said  that  they signed   an agreement with NPA, to dredge the Calabar channels to 9.4 metres  before taking over the port  but regretted  that  barely 10 years  after it had  Commenced  operations , the dredging of the Calabar channel had not been done. 

The Magazine gathered that the dredging contract had  actually been  awarded to two Companies  but the  dredging Companies were said to have suspend work   over undisclosed reasons.  The former minister who could not hide his  feelings  was said to have told  Hajia  Usman , the NPA, Managing Director,  that the Calabar  port could not receive  bigger ships   carrying Contanerised cargoes for now,  due to its shallow draft. At present , the port is operating at a  6.4 draft, which is not good enough  for shipping Companies  to risk of  taking  their  big ocean –going vessels  to  the port  to berth and discharge cargoes for fear of running into difficulties of sailing out of the port channels.

Appealing to the NPA , officials at the Calabar, port,  to obtain  a survey of the port , he  stressed that it is the  only way  that the Management   will know the shallow and deep portions  of the port to be  able to guide the dredging Companies handling the Contract.

 He averred  that there is  urgent need for the go vernment to go ahead with the dredging  thing of the Calabar  port without further delay, noting that  the it had lost vital revenue running into billions of naira, over the years,   from the port   due to lack  of maintenance  of the Channels during the Concession  era.

 Indeed, given the steps that had been  taken  by Hajia Usman   and his Management Team to boost  business at the  south eastern ports,  Maritime   watchers are optimistic that if  the government  could  give  the Authority  all the necessary financial support to pursue the  dredging of  Delta and Calabar ports, it will be able  attract  bigger Ocean going vessels with  cargoes to discharge at the ports, an  indication of more coming into government  coffers

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