NPA Reposition The Country’s Ports As The Hub Of The West African Sub-Region

By Stephen Ubanna

 Between 2015 and now, the West African Container Terminal, WCT, one of the leading Concessionaires at the Nigerian  Ports  Authority, NPA, controlled seaports  with base at the Federal ocean  Terminal, FOT, Onne  Rivers state, had been investing in the acquisition of  modern cargo  handling equipment.

The Terminal Operation investment in sophisticated modern cargo handling equipment became pronounced in 2015, when it successfully berthed a 260 m  Maersk gearless vessel with a Capacity to handle 4, 800 TEUs Since then, officials of WCT, have  not looked back in committing  funds to the acquisition of modern mobile Harbour cranes, terminal trucks and reach suckers, in order to facilitate the quick turn-around of such larger ocean –going vessels  calling at the port.

. Take for instance, in 2019, alone, the Concessionaire, was said to have invested  $14 million  in the acquisition of  such modern cargo Hnadling  at the terminal, which could  Compete  with facilities at  the major Container terminals in Lagos.

Noah Sheriff, the Commercial Manager of the Company had told  industry stakeholders and the shipping Companies operating in the country   that  they have no cause to worry about taking their large size  gearless  vessels to WCT facility at Onne port . Sheriff had said, that with the Terminal efforts in  acquiring modern mobile cranes,  ‘’ it has been positioned to handle  gearless vessels calling at its facility’’.   

True to his words,When the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, under the close watch of Hajia Bala Usman,  gave  approval for a 300 meter  Maersk Nigeria Limited, vessel, named Maersk Stadehorn, described as one of the largest  gearless Container vessel in  the fleet of the shipping Company to be taken to the  Onne port, WCT facility, the  company did not hesistate in in do so. Moreso, officials of WCT, when contacted about the decision, it  never came to them as a surprise. This is because they  were looking out   to a time when NPA will divert   such a larger  Maerskline gearless vessel  to their facility. It was therefore, not very surprising why they received with happiness when the Asian country of  the Maersk Singapore  Flagship vessel with a capacity , of  about 10,000 TEUs was diverted to the WCT facility, at FOT, Onne.

Pundits were initially scared that the WCT, facility may not be able to handle the large  size Maerskline gearless Container vessel. The a had their reason: Lack of facililities. They had expected Hajia Usman and her Management  Team to first allow the Maerskline  gearless vessels, regarged as one of the largest in the fleet of the International shipping Company  to first sail to the Lagos port of Apapa or Tin can Island before sailing to the WCT facility to berth. They were, however, disappointed when information filtered out on Saturday, August 15, 2020, that the Maerskline gearlessthe vessel had successfully berthed at the WCT facility, onne port.  Klaus Laursen, country Manager of Merskline in Nigeria, noted that the successful berthing of the vessel   ‘’could not have been possible without the approval and support of NPA’’.  

  Jatto Adams, General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications of the Federal ministry of Transport agency said ‘’ it was part of the  Hajia Usman led Management determination  to improve patronage  of the south eastern ports of Onne, , Delta port, Waarri  and the port of Calabar, Cross river state’’.

Hajia Hadiza Usman: MD, NPA

 Adams who had issued a Statement, concerning the successful berthing of the Maerskline Singaporean  Flagship vessel  disclosed with a capacity of about 10,000 TEUs, was  an indication that ’’ the south eastern ports of Onne, Rivers port, Delta port, and the port of Calabar,  are equipped ‘’to receive  all manner of vessels and an expansion  of the options  of Consignees’’ .   Note that shippers had made the Lagos ports of Apapa Tin can Island including Port Multi-services Terminal  Limited, PTML, their  first choice, thus neglecting the south eat ports.

Officialls of WCT believe that the decision of Hajia Usman and her Management Team to bring  larger gearless ocean going vessels  to berth in its facility is aligned with the Company’s  phase 2  terminal upgrade project, which will see its number of mobile Habour cranes and other container handling equipment  increased.

 The Maerskline vessel  was said to have been brought   into the WCT , facility, from  the Fairway Bouy , Bonny Island,  with the support of three tugboats  operated by NPA Pilots. The Container vessel was said to have been received by Alhassan Abubakar, the Onne Port Manager, amidst tears of joy.

Industry watchers believe that   Maerskline officials may have agreed to NPA suggestions to allow the large ocean going vessel  to sail to Onne port without first calling at the Lagos ports of Apapa and Tin can Island, to show that the south east ports have the capacity to handle such large gearless vessels without any operational problem. Okechukwu, Ibezi, a PortHarcout based Freight Forwarder  who could not hide his joy said the direct Maerskline Container service to Onne port would help to decongest the Lagos ports  which had been  a source of problem to importers with their Clearing agents over the years.   

Industry watchers fears that APM , Apapa, which is the leading Container port  in Lagos, may have  wake up, to match the speed of Onne port, or lose  most of its Customers to the south east port of Onne, which had proved to be  an alternative to Consignees.

 Many believe that with the successful berthing of the Maerskline  larger ocean going vessel at the Onne port, the WCT, officials,  should expect to receive more of such larger  gearless vessels at their facility as Hajia Usman, the NPA, Managing Director, was said to h to have sent a message of congratulations to  the Abubakar led  Management Team at the  Onne port for a job well done. She was said to  have also  had a word of’’ appreciation to  Industry stakeholders  for  their cooperation   towards seeing to it  that  th Maersk gearlesse vessel berthed without any challenge’’ .

She may have gladdened the heart of the shipping Community when she  assures of the  agency Commitment   ‘’to ensuring  that the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tin-can Island, PTML and Kirikiri Lighter Terminal, phases I and II, including the south east ports’’ would   work at optimum capacity’’ . According to the NPA , boss, the plan is to  reposition the country seaports as’’ the hub in the West African sub-region’’.

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