The shallowness of the water channel leading into the Warri port in Delta State is set to slow down President Muhammadu Buhari’s effort to limit the expenditure of scarce foreign exchange on rifining petroleum products abroad and enhancing the speed to market of motor fuels.
While Buhari’s initiative to accomplish both objectives has been gaining traction on the drawing board, the waterway leading to the Warri refinery, where crude is to be delivered for processing, is said to have silted up and will require to be dredged before laden barges can navigate through.
The current draft of the Warri water channel, which stands at eight metres, is considered by some analysts as limiting the volume of business in both the port and refinery.
Warri port’s advantages include its nearness to catchment states of Anambra, Imo, Enugu, Delta, Edo, Kogi, Ondo, Benue and others, for haulage of cargo, when compared with other operational ports based in Lagos.
Currently, PPP Fluid Mechanics, the company contracted by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to lift crude oil to Warri refinery, has reportedly pointed at the low depth of the water channel as the major challenge limiting its operations, as the company finds it difficult to use its large crude carrier to move 950,000 barrels of oil to the refinery.
PPP Fluid Mechanics has resorted to using smaller shuttle vessels for lightering operations and to move crude oil from the Escravos channel to the refinery. This deployment of numerous smaller vessels significantly slows down the operation and increases cost, informed sources say.
Hosa Okunbor, PPP Fluid Mechanics, chairman, who reportedly raised the alarm on the condition of the Warri water channel as it affects the company’s operations, also stated that dredging the water channel would attract more business to the Warri refinery .
“The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) will soon commence the dredging of Warri water channel to enable it perform efficiently and effectively for the overall benefit of the nation’s economy, and to ease the difficulties businesses are experiencing in moving cargo to both the port and the refinery,” said Iheanacho Ebubeogu, general manager, Public Affairs of NPA while responding to BusinessDay’s questions on what the authority intends to do to open-up Warri port.
According to Ebubeogu, the authority is perfecting arrangements to commence the dredging and rehabilitation of the breakwaters. “For the dredging, the contractors would soon go for tender, that is the beginning of the procurement process. While for the rehabilitation of the breakwaters, the consultants are still carrying out a preliminary study to get the best model to use in rebuilding the Warri breakwaters.”
Recall that David Omonibeke, the executive director, Marine and Operation, of NPA, recently assured Eastern port users that the management of NPA was aware of the numerous challenges hindering the smooth operation of ports in the Eastern axis.
These include Warri, Calabar and Port Harcourt. The ports are suffering from low patronage due to water draft and insecurity. Omonibeke said the management has started to address those issues and will continue to responsd with dispatch to all challenges as they arise.
Tony Anakebe, a renowned maritime analyst, believes that 950,000 barrels of crude oil, which takes the use of several shuttle vessels to discharge, can be moved to the refinery at once, using a bigger crude carrier, to save cost.
Anakebe also urged the new government to develop ports outside Lagos, including building dry ports in the north, to decongest Lagos.
He said developing the needed port facilities in the Eastern ports would help reduce the several bottlenecks which hinder the timely delivery of cargo to importers’ warehouses and also reduce cost of doing business at any Nigerian port.