Steve Agbota, [email protected]
Nigeria as one of the maritime destinations in West Africa has six seaports where cargo can be transported to from any other seaport around the world. The six ports include Apapa, Tin-Can Island in Lagos, Rivers in River state, Onne port in River state, Calabar port in Cross Rivers and Warri port in Delta state.
But today, out of these six seaports, only Apapa and Tin-Can Island in Lagos are absorbing all the export cargoes for all Nigerian exports irrespective of their origin. The two seaports in Lagos state enjoys more traffic than the other four thus making them the only active ports in the country while others either idle or abandoned.
Ironically, despite the proximity of Eastern ports to markets in the Eastern and the Northern parts, importers and exporterts have continued to make Lagos their preferred destination for delivery and clearing of their consignments. For instance, markets and businesses in the cities like Onistha, Nwewi, Aba, Enugu and other markets close to these ports that attract highest capacity of Nigerian-bound containerised cargoes, still embark on a long journey to Lagos to take delivery of their consignments instead of patronising the Eastern ports closer to them.
However, this has made Eastern ports more or less idle compared to Lagos ports that presently bedeviled with gridlock and congestion as result of increasing volume of cargo throughput and dilapidated infrastructure around the ports in Lagos.
Daily Sun learnt that the plight of the ports at the Eastern and Delta coastlines might have been compounded by a lot of factors, including sea robbery, militancy and the host communities’ hostility even as some technical challenges continue.
For example while it costs shipment from China to Lagos about $1,500, same consignments going to Calabar costs between $4,000 to $4,500.
The ports have berth depth of between 6 – 11 meters compared to the Lagos port with berth depth ranging from 9 – 13.5 meters while the draught of the channels are below standard. Standard port berths in other West African countries like Accra, Ghana is 19 metres, Lome, Togo is 16 metres, Cameroon at 16 metres and Cotonou, Benin Republic at 15 metres.
For the channel leading to the ports, Lagos port has a draught of 13.5 meters, that of Port Harcourt is between 7.1 – 9.1 meters while Warri stands at between 6.4 – 7.6 meters Onne has between 8 – 11 meters and Calabar has 6.4 meters during high tide and 5.4 meters during low tide. However, besides shallow draft, insecurity and high charges are some of the major reasons why the ports have failed to attract vessels for so many years.
To address these challenges, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) said it would focus efforts towards reviving the Eastern ports in order to attract and divert traffic to those ports to reduce the congestion and gridlock in Lagos.
As part of efforts to revive the ports, NPA recently announced that vessels calling at Calabar, Rivers and Delta Ports would now enjoy 10 per cent discount on harbour dues. The measure was taken by the government agency to ensure increase of vessels traffic and also to increase patronage of the Eastern ports that have been idle for years.
The Authority however listed the types of vessels and cargoes that would enjoy the 10 per cent discount to include container vessels with at least 250 20-foot equivalent units, general cargo vessels with at least 16,000 metric tonnes, combo vessels with at least 16,000 MT, roll-on-roll-off vessels with at least 250 units of vehicles respectively.
NPA said these discounts shall not apply to vessels coming inballast (without any cargo), vessels calling at private jetties, and vessels calling carrying liquid bulk. The application of these discounts will take immediate effect.
Speaking with Daily Sun on some of these measures, a Maritime lawyer, Emmanuel Nwagbara, said that, “10 per cent in any business is not a small money in any business. I’m aware that NPA made that pronouncement that for every vessels that calls at Warri, Port Harcourt and Calabar ports with at least 250 20-foot equivalent units will have 10 per cent reduction in harbour dues. They also included any vessel that carries 250 vehicles (combo vehicles) and general cargo vessels that have up to 16000 metric tons of general cargo that such vessels should be entitled to 10 per cent reduction in harbour dues.
The essence really is more than discongesting Lagos ports but is also to make those Eastern ports busy. We have advocated it in the past that there should be autonomous ports, that we should have Western port, Eastern port and Delta port so as to encourage development of the ports and to encourage competition among the ports. Maybe this step is the beginning of good things to come in the future. I think it is a good way to start. Although, one would ask for more in terms of the rebate so as to really encourage vessels to pick cargo that can be directly routed to these ports.”
According to him, the other thing is for NPA to work hard to ensure that there is no threat to security in the Eastern ports area. He said that is where NPA has to work hard to ensure that working with NIMASA and other stakeholders in the maritime industry including the Navy that nation’s waters in those areas are safe and also work to ensure that the local communities appreciate the need for peace to rain in the area where these ports are located.
“So I look forward to higher percentage of reduction for vessels that will call at the Eastern ports. It will really encourage these vessels and it will encourage people to route their cargo directly into these ports,” he said.
Advisory Head/CEO, Kamany Marine Services Limited, Charles Okorefe said it is not bad to give incentives but the incentives must be giving in the right perspectives, adding that giving 10 per cent rebate by NPA for vessels to go Eastern ports not enough because there many issues affecting these ports, which include security and other factors around the ports.
He queried: “How safe are the Eastern ports? Central Port in Warri, which is Delta port, the Eastern port of Port Harcourt, Calabar port and so. How safe are those places in terms of piracy attacks and sea robbery and all of that. How about the approaches and channels in the ports? How good are they to take bigger vessels to those areas? They have been several complains about the dredging of the Warri channels for instance, not just dredging it but making sure that things are put in place that the channels are not facing situation continuously.
“The same thing goes to Calabar port. You will recall that the Calabar port has experienced a lot of ridicule interventions and problems looking at the source of money that is in dispute whether dredging has taking place, whether NPA is owing some people or not. It has been mysterious issue…”