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.
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.