Stories by Steve Agbota,[email protected]
Insecurity and high cost of doing business at the Nigerian ports have remained the main reasons why majority of Nigerian- bound cargoes are virtually diverted to neigbouring countries. In the entire West African frontier, Nigerian ports are regarded as the most expensive due to high cost of doing business within the facilities. This explains why vessels calling at the nation’s ports usually prefer neighbouring countries ports where they pay less to discharge their cargoes.
Perhaps it was in a bid to check this gap that the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) recently decided to dismantle the Secure Anchorage Area (SAA), operated on behalf of the Nigerian Navy by a private company, OMSL Limited to enhance security and reduce port costs.
Despite the relative improvement in security in Nigeria’s waters in the last quarter, the country still remains one of the places shipping companies would like love to avoid as a result of insecurity in spite of the huge amount the Federal Government is spending on security, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
Recently, government announced the award of a maritime security contract worth $195 million (about N60 billion) to an Israeli company, HLSI Security Systems and Technologies. The contract involves the deployment of unmanned area vehicles, helicopters, fast patrol boats and others.
Similarly, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), early this year launched its Command, Control Computer Communication and Information (C41) operation centre, to create maximum security and strong surveillance to achieve low freight costs, as there will be increased port calls due to improved security.
However, at a recent quarterly stakeholders meeting in Port Harcourt, operators in the eastern ports raised the alarm that government agencies are flouting Federal Government’s Executive Order on joint inspection of vessels. They bemoaned that many indigenous shipping companies have closed down due to inability to pay the huge cost of private armed guards, which ranges between $30,000 and $50,000; following the spate of insecurity plaguing the eastern flanks of the nation’s waterways.
At a cross section of the meeting, shipowners and brokers revealed that about 90 per cent of vessels that call at the Port Harcourt port or Onne port come with armed guards.
According to a representative of Interserve Nigeria Limited, one of the indigenous shipping firms operating at the Rivers port, “we need the Nigerian Navy and the NIMASA to be up and running in providing security around the eastern port channels.
“What is disturbing us today is that the eastern port channels are not secured. Pirates are hijacking vessels and abducting captains at will. That is why many of the foreign vessels that call here come with private armed guards, which is very expensive for indigenous shipping companies.”
To reduce the cost of doing business and improve security at the nation’s seaport, the NPA recently notified the Nigerian Navy of its decision to dismantle the Secure Anchorage Area, operated on behalf of the Navy by a private company, OMSL Limited.
The NPA said that the security of the country’s waterways remains the statutory responsibility of NIMASA, Marine Police, and the Nigerian Navy, all of which must all ensure a safe and secured Nigeria territorial waters. The move, which was commended by stakeholders in the maritime sector, who claimed the initiative was timely to stave off a financial burden that the consulting company had brought on them.
A Secure Anchorage Area is an area outside the Lagos port that the Nigerian Navy, with a private company, has defined as a secure place where vessels can anchor safely from the threat of pirate attack.
Investigation reveals that vessels are charged $2, 500 on the first day at the anchorage and $1, 500 for subsequent days. It was also revealed that it takes between 28 and 30 days for a vessel to exit the anchorage.
According to vessel traffic numbers obtained from the NPA, 1,666 vessels called at the Lagos ports alone in a quarter and a minimum of 55 per cent of vessels that call at the Lagos port stayed at the SAA.
This means that OMSL Limited on behalf of the Nigerian Navy, collects, averagely, $133.28 million (N47.98 billion) annually, since 2014.
As the issue turns a sore point in the maritime economics, the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, directed the NPA to write a letter to the Chief of Naval Staff to request that the Navy stopped the operation of the facility. The NPA, in the letter, stated that the revenue generated from the operation at a charge of $1,500 per vessel per day from 2014 to date was neither remitted to it nor the Federal Government.
It further argued that the patrol boat, NNS Dorina P101, as mother vessel, and the interceptor vessels, NNS Agede P258 and NNS Torie P259, were all purchased by it for the Nigerian Navy to patrol the anchorage and not to be designated for use at a facility that has no relationship with it.
NPA also stated that the operations of SAA added up to high cost for vessels coming to Nigeria through the surcharge of $1,500 per vessel per day.
When contacted for comments, Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman, confirmed the development. She expressed worries that entrenched interests may have been fueling insecurity to justify the continued retention of the SAA.
Usman stated, “We have also notified the Nigerian Navy that, that arrangement cannot continue anymore, and we anticipate a pushback from the operators of these safe anchorage areas. But we are going to sustain our position that vessels should not be charged for safe anchorage area.
“The Nigeria government, Nigerian Navy, should provide that. And to the extent that the Nigerian Navy requires an additional support, we would provide that support. But, already, our vessels that we procured to secure that anchorage are part of the vessels that they are using to secure the safe anchorage area.”
The NPA managing director added, “I would like to say that any increase in insecurity in the Lagos waters, as relates to this, we are going to hold some people responsible, because once you remove, for example, a safe anchorage, they would try to intentionally create insecurity. I just needed to sound that as a point of reference.
“This safe anchorage has been removed, and we would work with the Nigerian Navy and NIMASA to secure the anchorage. Any attempt to create any insecurity, to justify the establishment of the Safe Anchorage Area, would not be accepted, because our anchorage in the Lagos area has been very safe. We do not have any incidence or activities of militants in the waterways in this part.”
In their reaction, officials of many shipping companies applauded the NPA for the bold move, adding that this would go a long way in reducing port cost. The officials, who did not want their names in print, disclosed that NIMASA already collected security fees, saying the multiple fees are a major barrier to the growth of the shipping industry in Nigeria.