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Barge operators call for dredging of channels, wrecks removal

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Stakeholders have called for the navigation and regular dredging of water channels for vessels and crafts, as well as the removal of wrecks on waterways to expand areas where barges can navigate, particularly beyond the Lagos Pilotage District and further into the inland water channel that links the nation.

They lamented the many challenges militating against commercial barging operations in the country, some which include the dearth in finance/funding for capital-intensive operation amongst others.

These were disclosed during the first yearly conference of Barge Operators Association of Nigeria (BOAN) themed: “Barge Operations as Panacea for Port Congestion: Benefits for the Nation under Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA),” in Lagos.

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A Trustee and Legal Adviser of BOAN, Victor Mgboji, while giving a general overview of the barging industry administration, regulation, challenges and recommendations, said the delays in loading and discharging containers at the port terminals that lead to high operating cost occasioned by demurrage accrued on equipment use and huge loss, have taken several operators out of business.

He added that the absence of uniformity in port charges with varying conditions for port access, influx of illegal and unlicensed operators in the barging industry as well as poor safety standards have also had a negative effect on the barging industry.

He noted that barge operation was established as a panacea for port congestion and economic development due to the epileptic situation the Lagos ports had endured for years, particularly as a result of the dilapidation of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, which is an access road to the port terminals at Tin-Can Island and Apapa.

Speaking earlier, the President, BOAN, Edeme Kelikume, said in spite of the challenges, the future looks very bright for the industry to rise up to the occasion of contributing and revamping the economy by improving the maritime sector and boosting revenue especially in the export sector, as the nation prepares to take full advantage of the AfCFTA.

He said while commercial barging of cargo from the port has its teething challenges, BOAN members have contributed to reducing perennial gridlock on the port access road by taking some volume off the road.

He said the association has moved no fewer than one million TEUs of containers and about 500, 000 metric tonnes of general cargo from the ports in Lagos yearly.

Kelikume said the emergence of barging as a viable alternative to road transportation, particularly in the wake of the perennial traffic gridlock along the Apapa port corridor, which had resulted in Nigeria losing huge earnings due to port congestion and poor vessel turn around, must be sustained.

He assured that the association would double the figure if given the desirable enabling environment and support of all stakeholders.

He further called on the government to urgently embark on the removal of hazardous wrecks from the waters, sectional dredging and provision of navigational aids to ensure safety and smooth sailing of barges at all times.

In his address, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, said activities of barge operators in Nigeria are not well regulated as should be, adding that the ministry was working on issuing a new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for barge operators.

Amaechi, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Dr. Magdalene Ajani, stressed that while the traffic gridlock in Apapa and its attendant congestion at the ports have defiled all solutions, barge operation has served as efficient means of transportation to move containerised cargoes from the ports in Lagos to designated points through waterways.

He advised the barge operators’ association to get rid of the illegal operators in their fold, saying that the ministry has documented reports of barge operators doing illegal transactions.

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“It has been observed that barge operations have not been properly regulated, though the NPA, NIWA, NIMASA and Shippers Council are playing their role and working in synergy to ensure that barge operations are conducted in line with the rules and regulations.

“It is in this regard that the government is interested in discussions involving relevant stakeholders to ensure that barge operations are properly regulated and that those involved participate in their operations in line with the laid down rules and regulations,” he said.

He said the ministry has equally told terminal operators to create loading points for barges at their various terminals. On his part, the Chairman of the occasion, Adebayo Sarumi, a former Managing Director of NPA, hailed the courage and doggedness of the BOAN for taking the risk to venture into barging business in Nigeria as well as ensuring decongestion at the port, despite the lack of functional Literate Terminals and other facilities by the government.

Sarumi further charged members of the association to look for options to fund their operations rather than rely on the government for financial support.

He also advised the members to consolidate to lessen the financial burden caused by the extremely expensive infrastructure required to run their operations.

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