Trouble of the Eastern Ports

By Stephen Ubanna

Barely  twelve years after the Federal government Concessioned  the Lagos seaports of Apapa, Tincan Island and Port Multiservices terminal limited, PTML, and the Eastern ports of Onne, Port Harcourt Area I, Calaber and Warri ports to private operators, the Concessionaires  appear unhappy with the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA,  saddled with the responsibility to oversee the ports. This is because of unfulfilled agreement r of dredging of the channels and berths.

The Magazine learnt that under the Concession  agreement, NPA was to dredge the channels and berths  to a depth of 10 meters to accommodate  big ocean going vessels.  Sources told the Magazine that the Authority had kept to the  agreement in dredging the Lagos channels and berths at the Lagos seaports , thus making it possible for 21st century vessels to sail to Apapa, Tincan Island and PTML with cargoes without problem.

At a recent workshop on the ”Challenges and Prospects of Logistics as the live wire of Nigeria’s Maritime Sector”’ organised by the Maritime Reporters Association of Nigeria, MARAN, the Port  Terminal Operators, PTOL, were forced to speak out  about the unfulfilled agreement, particularly in the eastern ports and its implication to shipping companies operating in the ports. the Concessioners  disclosed that the shipping  companies  had made to incur additional costs of providing tug boats and pilot cutters to provide these services  to berth and sail their vessels at the  eastern ports.

The aggrieved Concessioners lamented that the inability of  NPA to dredge Channels and berths in the eastern ports had resulted  in the ports not ”enjoying the economy of scale  as vessels could not bring the required  and optimal tonnages ”. the fallout, they said was that their throughput had been generally reduced, thus leading to loss of revenue.

Hadiza Usman: Managing Director, NPA

To  properly maintain the Channels and berths at both the Lagos and eastern ports, the NPA had entered into a joint arrangement with some private operators to flout three Channels maintenance Companies. They are the Lagos Channel Management Company Limited, LCM, Bonny Channel Management Limited, BCM, and Calabar Channel Management Limited, CCM. The Companies were saddled with the responsibility to maintain the channels  in their respective areas of operations to ensure that RoRo  and other bigger vessels call at the nation’s ports.

The Authority was said to have spent $3 billion between 2005 and much of 2017  in the dredging of  the Lagos, Bonny and Calabar Channels to accommodate big ocean going vessels to the nation’s seaports.  The situation at the Channels was so worrisome as the Shipping companies operating at the eastern ports found it difficult to sail to the port with their big ocean going vessels, forcing the Bukola Saraki led Senate to investigate the NPA expenditure on the Channels.

The Senate Committee on Marine Transport was said to have summoned Hadiza Usman, a Human Rights activist and Managing Director of NPA and the Managing Directors of LCM, BCM  and CCM to investigate their books and records on the order of Saraki, the  Senate President.

While the investigation was on going, LCM and BCM was said to have respectively  requested through NPA the sum of N23 billion and N20 billion which was  built into its 2017 budget.

It would be recalled that the port Manager of Calabar  port  had given hope to the terminal operators  and the shipping Companies operating at the port that the much anticipated dredging of the Calabar Channel would begin in 2017. ”it is  going to be real dredging and not photo dredging to accommodate oRo and other bigger vessels”, the Port Manager had.  the  contract for the dredging of the Calabar port was said to have been awarded to the CCM at the initial cost of N3 billion but re-awarded to the Company at a cost of N56 billion  in 2006.

Indeed, these had been the situation at the eastern ports, forcing the  shipping  companies which are scared of taking their big  ocean going vessels laden with thousands of Containerized cargoes to incur additional costs  to provide  marine crafts such as  tug boats and pilot cutters  to provide services to berth  and sail their vessels out of the shallow eastern ports.

Perhaps, the greatest Challenge which the Shipping Companies   face as chronicled by the terminal operators  was ”lack of security at the fairways and coastal approaches ”, stating that it had been a major drawback  to their operations as vessels  are routinely attacked by pirates  and Crew hijacked.  The Port Terminal Operators disclosed  in a position paper presented at the MARAN forum that ”this has been a common place  in the past two years  at the eastern  seaboard of the country’s territorial waters”.

This is a big challenge to Rotimi Amaechi, a former Governor of Rivers state and now Minister of Transport  and Usman , the NPA boss to  provide the much needed security at the country’s fairways and coastal approaches to save vessels sailing to the eastern ports from the hand of  pirates and hijackers.

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