The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) recently dismantled and stopped ship owners from using the facility at the controversial Secure Anchorage Area (SAA) operated by a private sector firm known as Ocean Marine Services Ltd (OMSL).
An anchorage is an area created within the Pilotage Districts for the purpose of providing shelter for vessels calling at or departing from the ports. It is an integral part of a seaport, and is the responsibility of the NPA, according to the NPA Act to chat, designate, own, operate and manage ports anchorage areas except where such responsibility is entrusted to a third party in accordance with the Act.
Recall that the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) had through a marine notice issued in 2014, authorised the existence of the SAA as an additional security service facilities for the provision of 24/7 watch to vessels seeking extra protection while at the anchorage offshore Lagos.
The SAA is being operated by OMSL, a private sector entity but with logistical support from the Nigerian Navy, part of which was the three new patrol boats, acquired and handed over to the Navy by the NPA in 2014, to safeguard the Lagos anchorage and offshore waters within the Lagos Pilotage District.
Subsequently, the existence of SAA became worrisome when the NPA found out that the Nigerian Navy in collaboration with the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO) published the SAA in its Admiralty chart No.1381 of Lagos Ports Limits and Approaches dated 10th March 2011.
It was observed that there was some false information in the charts, which indicated that the anchorage that was operated by the NPA was ill-equipped; giving an impression that Nigerian water was not secured.
This was contrary to the assessment of the same facility by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which commended NPA for the standard of facilities and security at the location.
Following these controversies, the NPA vide its letters dated 24th October 2017 and 25th October 2016 respectively, sought the intervention of the Minister of Transportation to dismantle the facility due to its high cost on ships.
In terms of cost, BusinessDay investigation reveals that shipping companies patronising the SAA are charged $2,500 for the first two days and $1,500 for subsequent days that the vessel is anchored in the SAA. These charges at the SAA add up to the high port charges for vessels coming to Nigerian ports.
Consequently, the NPA vide letter dated 9th October 2019 and addressed to the Nigerian Navy, requested for stoppage of the operation of the SAA pending the conclusion of a new framework, and this has generated several controversies.
According to a petition letter written by the NPA and sent to National Assembly, a copy of which was sighted by BusinessDay, the authority said that the responsibility to oversee the maintenance of security in Nigerian maritime domain lies with the Nigerian Navy, Marine Police, NIMASA and NPA in accordance to their area of jurisdictions as provided by relevant legislation.
The letter stated that it has become very worrisome that the revenue generated from the SAA operation from 2014 till date, has not been remitted to the NPA or to the Federal Government since 2014.
“By virtue of section 7 (d) and (e) of the NPA Act, it is the responsibility of the Authority to: (d) ‘provide for the approaches to all ports and the territorial waters of Nigeria such pilotage services and lights, marks and other navigational services and aids, including cleaning, deepening and improving of all waterways.’ (e) ‘Provide facilities for berthing, towing, mooring or dry-docking of ships in entering or leaving a port or its approaches,” the letter stated.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian ship owners have thrown their weight behind the NPA for having the political will to terminate the operation of the private sector-managed SAA in Lagos.
To them, Nigerian ship owners never supported the idea of having a private sector managed anchorage because securing the nation’s waters supposed to be the sole responsibility of the NPA, NIMASA and Nigerian Navy.
Speaking to newsmen in an interview in Lagos, Aminu Umar, president Nigerian Shipowners Association (NISA), said there is nowhere in the world an anchorage is operated by a private sector company, and that was why Nigerian ship owners do not utilise the SAA.
Stating that foreign ship owners that come to Lagos Ports assume that Nigerian waters are not safe, Umar said this was why foreign ships prefer to have a special anchorage that is frequently patrolled against pirate attacks.
“In other West African ports like Lome and Benin, anchorages are owned by their ports authorities. Though, we do not want to question why government gave the private sector the right to operate the SAA but we think there is no need for such rather, all our waters should be made secured for safe shipping,” Umar stated.