How NPA is investing in opening up Warri Port for business

The concentration of port activities in the city of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre, has no doubt, proven to be one of the major reasons the Nigerian port industry has been experiencing some pushbacks that have hindered its efficiency and competitiveness in the West African sub-region.

This has led to a high level of congestion experienced within terminals and roads leading to Lagos Ports on a regular basis. Indirectly, it also results to delay in vessel clearance and cargo evacuation, and their attendant high cost for importers.

As a result of this, Nigerian importers and exporters have been agitating for decentralisation of port business to other parts of the country, particularly in places with existing port facilities.

Outside Lagos, Nigeria has ports in Warri, Rivers, Onne and Calabar. Among these four ports, only Onne port has proven to be the most viable by volume of imports handled, making it the busiest economic gateway in eastern Nigeria.

To create more viable gateways and enable consignees to have alternatives to Lagos Ports, the Federal Government has, through the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), started investing in reviving Eastern ports, starting with Warri.

Warri, which is located in Delta State, can serve as a hub for import activities in the South-south, and some of the commercial centres in the South-East. It has the potential to create an opportunity for investors to develop some maritime logistics along the channel.

Sadly, Warri Port has not been as viable as it ought to be due to issues around shallow draft that make it near difficult for vessels to access the port.

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The problem of Warri Port started with the collapse of the breakwater about 10 years ago causing high siltation that reduced the draft of the channel from 7 to 3 meters in some places. With a shallow draft, big vessels now find it extremely difficult to come to Warri Port, which is not good for port business.

To resolve this, the NPA started by awarding a contract for the remedial dredging of the Escravos channel that leads to Warri Port. The dredging was aimed at helping to expand the channel, enable bigger vessels to visit the port, and eliminate the possibility of vessels running aground along the channel.

In addition, the NPA has started the mapping and charting of the about 107km Escravos channel starting from the fairway buoy down to Koko Port, which has not been done for over a decade. The essence was to find out the draft along the channel and to also ensure that the navigational aids are properly deployed in places where they were needed.

Besides the remedial dredging, there is also a need to address the major problem, which is the collapsed breakwater in order to stop siltation into the channel. This was why the NPA conducted bathymetric and technical studies on the channel, and now at the design stage.

Mohammed Bello-Koko, managing director of the NPA told BusinessDay during a visit to Warri Port that the NPA is considering either reconstructing the current breakwater or building a brand new one, which is a project that runs into hundreds of millions of naira.

The most important thing, Bello-Koko said, was to ensure that NPA is performing its responsibility by providing the necessary marine services and deploying equipment.

According to him, there is a pipeline owned by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) that is buried underwater which the authority is discussing with the corporation to bury deeper to enable dredging of the channel.

In terms of towage, he said, the NPA has a third-party towage contract which is considering reviewing because it is becoming quite difficult for the contractor to operate.

Delta State has multiple port locations including Warri, Burutu, Koko, and jetties among others, which shows that government has an opportunity that needs to be harnessed by improving the draft of the channel.

Insecurity is another major challenge limiting the efficiency of Eastern ports and Warri is not an exception. This is why there is an existing collaboration between the NPA and the Nigerian Navy towards addressing issues around insecurity.

BusinessDay understands that a committee was set up between the NPA and the Navy, which was not only meant to look at issues of security at the port but to also, resolve issues of land ownership between both agencies.

Currently, discussions are ongoing with the Navy in terms of improving patrol along the waterfront at the port. The Navy has also given approval for the NPA to locate some of its signal stations that enable vessels to keep in touch in case of distress at sea, in areas not too far from the naval operational bases.

“NPA is responsible for security within the terminal, quay walls, quay apron, and the channel. This is why we are also buying security patrol boats that would be deployed to all port locations for patrolling the waterway,” Bello-Koko said.

The Inspector-General of Police, he said, has also approved the setting of Marine Police in both Calabar and Warri Ports to help improve security in those ports.

It was also discovered that another challenge facing the port in Warri Port is the high level of encroachment into the NPA land such that there are lots of makeshift shops and already built houses even on the path leading to the port. This resulted in several litigations between the NPA and the encroachers.

Most of the land in question is landlocked and does not have access to water, which is why they have been lying fallow after the NPA developed the parts that have access to water.

For that reason, Bello-Koko has called for an out-of-court settlement, particularly with those encroachers that are ready to negotiate with the NPA so that those lands can be put into use again.

“We believed that those lands have commercial value and we need to take possession by putting them to use. They are large and probably expensive to fence. We will either lease them for a long time or give them out to developers to build houses or office spaces so that they can earn money for the government,” he said.

Reacting to the development, Usman Hussein, managing director of Associated Maritime Service Ltd, who spoke on behalf of terminal operators in Warri Port, commended NPA’s efforts toward attracting businesses to Warri Port.

To him, dredging the channel and deploying navigational aids would go a long way in enabling safe shipping.

During the visit of the NPA boss and his management team to the Olu’s palace to seek royal support in reviving the Warri Port, the Olu of Warri Kingdom, Ogiame Atuwatse III, expressed satisfaction with the visit of the NPA new management to Warri Port as the first port of call after his confirmation as the managing director.

He said the eastern ports need to be opened up after several pushes by different governments in the past, adding that the recent efforts will yield positive results for the benefit of the importing community.

While saying that the Niger-Delta people want the port to work, the Olu of Warri said that the port generally drives the economy of the cities where they are located.

He, however, said that the NPA can always come to the royal family for support to achieve the goal of opening up Warri Port for business.

Finding has shown that productivity in any business rests mainly on the personnel. This was why the authority has started working towards improving staff welfare through salary increments.

First, the NPA awarded the contract for holistic rehabilitation of the office building in Warri Port, which has been in a poor state for too long, in order to give staff a better working environment

According to Bello-Koko, the new administrative building will be equipped with the right working tools, IT infrastructure, and others to enhance the speedy clearance of vessels.

There is also an ongoing procurement process and effort to get approval to buy more staff buses and operational vessels. It has also seen the need to increase the size of the clinic in Warri Port and enable it to have a functional laboratory. This is in line with its plans to rebuild clinics in all the ports and equip them in such a way that any visiting vessel with a crew that has health issues should be able to use them.

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