Poor capacity pushes merchant vessels to neighbouring countries
• Stakeholders call for inclusion of ports development in yearly budget
Nigeria has continued to lose large merchant vessels to neighbouring countries as the inability to develop deep seaports among other challenges scare shipping companies from using ports within the eastern corridor.
The Guardian learnt that the government has been unable to solve the persisting challenges affecting the full operation of ports in the eastern part of the country, despite the huge investment. The challenges include low draft, insecurity, geographical limitations, and high cost among others.
President of National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, said Nigerian ports have always had issues of draft, saying: “Politically, they will tell you it is 13 metres, but professionally it is around 12, and some of them are nine. While in Togo and other countries they have 15. Ghana is almost going to 19 metres because they invested over $2 billion in their port. They structured their ports in a well-defined way and now they are benefitting.”
He said Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Benin Republic and Togo have positioned their ports in recent times to attract merchant vessels, thereby posing serious challenge to Nigeria.
He said Nigeria has lost in cargo transshipment, destination and transit that provide employment, which has been shifted to other neighbouring countries.
“Today, we have what is called mega ships and millennium ports. Millennium ports are those that can accommodate mega ships. Are Nigerian ports millennium ports? They are all clearly river ports; they are not seaports or ocean ports. They don’t fall within the line of international ports where mega ships can come in, so you have a port that is just lying fallow. You don’t have ports designed for its original purpose, which is trade,” Amiwero stated.
Deputy National President, Air Logistics, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Segun Musa NAGAFF, listed factors affecting the under-utilisation of other ports in the country to include lack of political will, lack of provisions of state’s government healthy policy regime, lack of basic infrastructures, no incentives to users, high cost of operations, poor road network and lack of intermodal efficiency.
Musa further listed high freight charges, noting for instance, “if the freight charges from China to Apapa or Tincan port is $5, 000 and to Enugu is $6, 000, the arithmetical solutions must accommodate the excess of $1, 000 from operational cost, port charges and transport costs among others, so that the port users can have landing cost lower than that of Lagos with seamless delivery modes.”
The Managing Director, National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Dr. George Moghalu, said, over 60 per cent of cargoes that come into the country are destined for Onitsha and Aba.
He said having world-class ports in Onitsha and other Eastern part of the country would ensure Apapa port is decongested.
The President, Shippers Association of Lagos, (SAL) Jonathan Nicol, said Warri, Sapele, Burutu and Forcadoes ports have remained under-utilised for years without efforts to revive and make them function.
He said dredging of Warri port has been suspended, with only few fishing vessels calling at the port, as well as the unfriendly business environment.
He said the clearance costs of cargoes at the Warri port is exorbitant, coupled with inadequate security as well as less cargo throughput owing to low draft and uncountable police check-points from Warri, through Benin to Onitsha or from Warri Port through Ughelli to Onitsha.
Nicol also listed non-existence of cross border trade with the Local Government staff blocking roads and demanding unreasonable road permits and stickers, among others.
The Shippers boss said if the Federal Government ignores the development of ports across the nation with major omissions in the yearly budgetary system, it should not crave for membership of the International Maritime Organisations’ (IMO’s) seat.
He said the African Francophone countries are well ahead in the development of port infrastructures. Nicol added that it is therefore important, as a matter of urgency, to restructure the Ports Authority and other active organs that will make decisive efforts to bring the maritime sector to limelight for urgent development programmes, with a new agency to supervise the infrastructures at the ports.
Meanwhile, the Acting Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Mohammed Bello-Koko agreed that ports in the South-South and South East are not fully functional.
He said geographical limitations due to long access channels that make navigation take longer time, high siltation along the channels and insecurity make it more expensive for shipping companies to use those ports.
According to Bello-Koko, while ports in the West operate for 24 hours, those in the east operate eight to 10 hours, which constrains the marine pilots from bringing in or escorting vessels out of the ports. This, he said, leads to an increase in ship waiting time and cost.
The Acting MD, said Delta ports, especially ports in the Warri area have issues with the positioning of NNPC pipes along their access channel, which is about a depth of six to seven metres. He said although, there are discussions between the NPA and NNPC to find a way to relocate the pipeline.
Bello-Koko said for the Calabar seaport that has the longest access channel amongst all the ports in Nigeria, the channel has not been dredged for over 10 years due to some litigation.
He said although it is quite expensive to dredge and maintain, serious efforts are on for a resolution to hopefully bring it back on track, as the port is known to serve the 16 Northern States of Nigeria as well as some of the major markets in the South East and Niger Republic.
He said there is also decaying port infrastructure as some sections of the quay aprons or walls at Onne, Delta and Calabar ports are collapsing and require huge funds to repair them.
Bello-Koko added that there is also the collapsed Warri port breakwaters, as studies are being carried out by Royal Haskoning to determine the best way to either rehabilitate or construct a new one.
The NPA boss said with the increasing pressure to remit more revenue to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) of the Federation, it has become very difficult to have sufficient funds to attend to these decaying facilities, hence the need to explore alternative funding sources outside the traditional port service offerings.
Recall that the Nigerian government has been accused of deliberately ignoring the ports in the east by focusing on Lagos ports, but the NPA boss said contrary to insinuations, shipping companies are avoiding the extra cost involved in going to Eastern ports despite the incentives given to them to use flat bottom vessels because of the draft issue.
Bello-Koko reiterated that the NPA management would remain steadfast to the full revitalisation of all the ports within the Eastern corridor of the country.
“With a deep seaport Nigeria will be able to attract transit cargo meant for our landlocked neighbours as well as retain her own captive cargo. There will also be a reduction with respect to ship-to-ship transfer activities taking place at nearby ports of Lome and Cotonou, for cargoes destined for the Nigerian market,” he said.