Despite having six seaports in Nigeria, Apapa and Tin-Can Island Ports in Lagos have remained the nation’s major economic gateways. As a result, both ports are currently operating above their capacities as they handle over 60 percent of Nigeria-bound import and export goods.
Interestingly, both ports are situated in the heart of Lagos State while the remaining four popularly known as ‘Eastern Ports’ are located in Delta, Rivers, and the Cross River States.
Having functional seaports in Lagos alone comes with its challenges for both businesses and residents in Lagos. Though importers and exporters in the South-south, south-east, and northern parts of the country would have preferred to take delivery of their consignments from either of the Eastern ports, many are forced to come to Lagos to pick up their containers and transport them back to their base.
This situation has been a source of concern to businesses in that region as many have lost money in one way or the other to the bottlenecks experienced in the already clogged ports in Lagos.
To change this narrative, the present management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), started looking for ways to encourage businesses to move to the Eastern Ports in order to reduce congestion in Lagos Ports by ensuring that the Eastern Ports are functional.
It started by visiting the four eastern ports including Delta, Calabar, Rivers, and Onne Ports with the main aim of inspecting the facilities and brainstorming with stakeholders at each port to understand their concerns and find ways to sever them better.
Last week, Mohammed Bello-Koko, the managing director of NPA led his executive team on an inspection of Rivers and Onne Ports.
Rivers Port, one of Nigeria’s longest-standing seaports has been operating below-built capacity in recent years due to issues around poor infrastructure. Located in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Rivers is a multi-purpose port managed by Ports and Terminal Operators Limited (PTOL), and BUA Port and Terminals Ltd.
Rivers Port has some collapsed berths particularly berths 5 and 8 of the BUA Terminal that were decommissioned years back, which the present management of NPA has given approval to BUA management to rebuild and NPA expects construction to commence soon.
The PTOL terminal also has some collapsed berths, which the NPA is discussing with them how to fix to enable bigger vessels to berth at Rivers Port.
In addition, PTOL has a development plan that involves bringing down some of the sheds in the terminal to improve the stacking areas and increase the terminal’s ability to handle more cargoes.
“We are very serious about increasing traffic to the Eastern Ports that way we can decongest Lagos Ports. Though most of these ports have draft limitations and we are looking at dredging deeper for bigger vessels to come and enable the economy of scale,” Mohammed Bello-Koko, the NPA boss said during the visit.
He said NPA will soon start the process of surveying the channel to improve its draft in order to bring bigger vessels into the port.
Following port users’ complaints, the Ports Authority has started reviewing the third-party towage contract and plans to bring in pilot cutters as well as other marine crafts that would help to improve efficiency and activities at the port.
Holding-bay for trucks doing business at the port is another infrastructure that the port is in serious need of. However, the location of the port especially in lieu of the fact that there has been municipal encroachment into the port space has made it difficult to locate the holding bay in proximity to the port.
Alternatively, the NPA is planning to purchase land that can be converted into a holding bay, which would be private sector driven using a public-private partnership arrangement.
This, Bello-Koko said, could be driven by the terminal operator or shipping line with NPA as a partner.
Aside from visiting the port, the management of NPA held an interactive session with the stakeholders to see the best way to address the many problems of Rivers Port.
Speaking at the meeting, Isreal Oyina, president of the Shipping Trade Practitioners Association, said that government agencies are not complying with the policy of joint boarding of vessels.
This, he blamed, on the lack of vehicles to convey the officers of these agencies to the port terminal.
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The cost of doing business in Rivers Port, according to him, is very high such that charterers are compelled to pay freight on risk due to the security concern along the port channel.
“It takes up to 5 hours to clear vessels, which goes a long way to affect the turnaround time of the vessel. Out of the eight berths, two berths have collapsed and it takes about 14 to 21 days to turn around the vessel, which results in the payment of demurrage to the shipping companies because it takes about $30,000 per day to maintain a ship,” he said.
Mohammed Ibrahim, general manager of BUA Terminal, pointed out that the lack of 24-hour pilotage service also affects vessel turnaround time at Rivers Port, adding that the NPA should at least ensure pilotage services till late hours.
He said that such would help to reduce vessel waiting time and enable ease of departure for vessels that have fully discharged their contents.
Responding, Bello-Koko, pointed out that the risk insurance paid by ships is not attributable to the NPA, but to the business environment.
The NPA, he said, has engaged the Nigerian Navy, communities, and other stakeholders that help to improve security in the waters by increasing patrol.
“NIMASA has also deployed the Deep Blue Project and with the assets that they are deploying, monitoring will increase along the channel as they even want to start monitoring pipelines and vandalism in the oil industry. We will engage NIMASA on what they can do to improve security on this side of the country. This will reduce incidences and the premium paid on risk,” he added.
Another port that is critical to businesses in the region outside Lagos is Onne Port, which has become the busiest port and important gateway to the east.
Interestingly, the port has been witnessing an increased volume of trade in recent times and there is a need to sustain the tempo. Against this backdrop, the NPA has rolled out some strategies aimed at strengthening the position of the port in that region.
First, the NPA commissioned three marine crafts including a pilot cutter, a security patrol boat, and security to support port operations.
Secondly, it flagged off the construction of the 4.5 kilometers access road ‘D’ at the Federal Ocean Terminal in Onne Port Complex to ease the movement of cargo in and out of the port. The road, which was part of the port expansion plan of Phase 4B that was awarded to the Deep Offshore, is expected to be delivered within a 10 months period.
The teams also access the readiness of the Export Processing Terminal run by the West African Container Terminal (WACT), one of the terminal operators in Onne.
According to Bello-Koko, the terminal was part of the NPA’s strategy to work with the Federal Government to improve the export of non-oil products.
“The export terminal has the capacity to accept, arrange and bag export. Exporters can also containerise the cargo before sending the goods to the ship for export. It will help to reduce the cost and time wastage for exporters, and ensures that products are exported fresh in line with the international best practices,” he said.
To improve security, NPA started working to fence all the open spaces at the port that is resulting in either attacks on ships or enchantment to the port properties by communities.
In terms of infrastructure, he said, there is a berth that needs to be rehabilitated and the payment is being worked on.
At the stakeholders’ interactive session in Onne Port, Kazeem Adebisi, president of Shipping Trade Practitioners Association of Nigeria, Onne Chapter, appealed to the NPA management to urge other government agencies to comply with the joint boarding policy aimed at reducing ship delays and improving the turnaround time of ship.
He complained of the delay experienced by ship charterers when their ships come into Onne late at night without agency officials to board the ship for inspection.
Responding, Bello-Koko promised to reach out to the agencies that are not complying with the order on ease of doing business that requires all agencies to jointly board vessels for inspection.
On using tariff rebates to attract patronage to the Eastern Ports, Bello-Koko said that years ago the NPA gave the terminal operators a tariff rebate that did not translate to traffic as related to the port.
He said that his management is currently reviewing the request for a 30 percent rebate put forward by terminal operators but that rebate must come with conditions.
On the dilapidated state of the major road to the port, he assured that the Ministry of Niger-Delta has taken up the road reconstruction.
Stanley Yitnoe, Onne port manager, disclosed that while the management has perfect plans to deploy an electronic call-up for the movement of trucks similar to Lagos, the port has deployed a manual call-up system.