By sTephen Ubanna
Aware of the identified flaws associated with the issuance of Barge Operating license to Companies over the last three years, to evacuate Containers from the seaports across the country , particular, the Lagos ports of Apapa and Tin Can Island, the Management of the Nigerian Ports Authority , NPA, were said to have concluded plans to come up with new guidelines to restore sanity in the business.
Insiders informed The Value News that between 2016 and 2019, the Authority had issued over 20 Companies permit to evacuate Containerised Cargoes at the country’s seaports. The evacuation of the Containerised cargoes through barges was said to have been initiated by the Authority in 2016, as part of its efforts to de-congest the Oshodi-Apapa access road to the ports designed to encourage intermodal transportation in cargo evacuation from the Lagos ports. the pressure may have been much on the use of barges in the recent time because of the on-going rehabilitation of the Apapa rail line by the Chinese Civil Engineering and Construction Company, CCECC.
The Companies licensed for the barge Operation business were said to have Complied with the extant regulations put in place by the agency such as showing the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency , NIMASA, Certificate of seaworthiness for the barge and a Comprehensive Insurance for the barges and cargoes in case of any accident. Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman, Managing Director , NPA, was said to have made it clear to those that cares to listen that the Authority would continue to encourage the movement and evacuation of cargoes through barges from the nation’s seaports to the hinterlands across the country.
The Harbour Master was said to have played a key role in recommending the barge Operating Companies that were said to have been issued license after verifying their tug boats and gears to be deployed for their operations to ensure Safety of cargoes and Functionality.
It is instructive to note that the companies had provided the Pilotage Exemption Certificate, PEC, for the tug boats to be deployed for the barge operations. This may have informed why the Authority demanded from the Companies to give a clue on the towing method to be used either by pushing the barge or by short tow, which were saidmust be determined by the Harbour Master. The Companies were said to have also shown evidence of availability of equipment and adequate Quay Infrastructure at their various Jetties of Operation across the country . This is an indication that NPA officials were thorough n selecting the barge Companies to be be utilised for the cargo evacuation from the seaports which gives no room for illegal barge operators to be found in Nigerian waters.
Investigations by The Value News shows that the Companies were equally mandated to seek NPA approval to Commence operations despite being cleared to start lifting cargoes from the seaports as part of the security measures to guide against fake barge operators. NIWA Management may have created the impression that the permit issued to the barge operating Companies were compromised because of the substandard barges laden with Containers found in the Nigerian waters.
Insiders informed The Magazine that the Hajia Usman led Authority had carried the NIWA, officials along on the issue bothering on the barge Operators signed to lift Containers at the ports to the hinterland across the country. This is evident going by the information volunteered to them at the early stage of the barge arrangement that some Companies had been issued License to lift cargoes using the country waterways to deliver at their various destinations to avoid any blockage on the routes to be used if seen. The identified routes to be used by the Barge Operators, at the Lagos Area as revealed by the NPA at a meeting with the NIWA officials in Lagos are the Apapa – Ikorodu, Apapa – Epe an and other parts of the state.
Note that the first evacuation of export cargoes from the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal to APM Terminal, Apapa by one of the Licensed Barge Operators, CRS logistics Limited in 2018 was very successful, showing that Nigeria barge operators have come of age.
Maritime analysts averred that the country has the Capacity to carry N40 billion export cargoes annually but currently carries only N2 billion, worth of export cargo, which was far below the country’s installed Capacity, thus leaving Ghana and Coted’Ivoire to dominate the Economic Community of West African States , ECOWAS , export market.
The analysts believe that if APM Terminal , had thrown its weight behind the barge Operators lifting Containers at their Terminal as Port and Cargo Terminals, had done by dedicating one of its Cranes for barge operations alone, it would have facilitated the lifting of more cargoes from their Terminal to Ikorodu Lighter Terminal . Between 1996 and now, the barge Operators, according to sources have been lifting 200 to 500 Containerised cargoes from the Lagos ports to the Inland Container Terminals daily which was a big relief to the Apapa port access road.
Despite the stringent measures put in place by the NPA, to engage the services of the selected barge operators , NIWA would want Nigerians to believe that there are still fake barge operators in Nigerian waters and had threaten to clamp down on them in order to discredit NPA.
Maritime watchers had expected the agency o arrest and parade, at least one of the fake barge operators over the last three years that it came up with the allegation but it had not, fueling speculation that that it has a plan to unseat NPA , from issuing permits to operators.
According to sources, NIWA officials are not happy with the barge operators selected NPA, over their alleged poor safety measures for cargoes evacuated from the ports. Perhaps to force their way to control the evacuation of cargoes from the Lagos seaports , particular, the agency reportedly had threatened to deploy patrol boats to monitor the movement of barges laden with cargoes from the Lagos seaports to Ikorodu, Epe and other parts of the state.
As a prelude to taking full responsibility of monitoring the barge operators and then, edge out NPA, which was instrumental to the use of barges to lift Containers from the seaports, it was said to have reeled out new guidelines about those that are qualified to execute such a multi-million naira businesses.
The NIWA Management were said to have informed the operators that their Staff would be stationed at strategic locations at the Lagos Lagoon, Elegbeta Channel and Five Cowrie waterfronts, in order to Clamp down on the erring barge operators who had failed to comply with its directives to prove that the bulks stops on their table.
More worrisome was their Complaints to the hearing of Amaechi , the minister of Transportation that Containers laden on barges from the seaports heading to Ikorodu, Epe and other parts of Lagos state , had fallen into the Lagoon at different times. The Magazine findings shows that between 1996 and now, that there had only been one incident that a Container fell into the water .
Many believe that the only way the agency could still be relevant in the barge arrangement for evacuation of cargoes from the seaports across the country would be to work closely with NPA instead of battling to take over the responsibility of issuing permit to the barge operators from the agency which has the original vision.