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.
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