NPA Set To Review Operational Guidelines For Issuing Permit To Barge Operators To Lift Cargo At The Seaports As NIWA Battles To Take Over The Job From The Authority

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. 

Hajia Hadiza Usman: MD, NPA

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.

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