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Why foreign cargo ships shun Eastern ports – NPA MD

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The Federal Government has explained why foreign ships avoid ports located in the Eastern part of the country.

The Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) Mohammed Bello Koko, blamed the incessant vandalisation and theft of buoys, navigational equipment which aids ships to anchor at seaports by the locals.

Koko said it compounded the challenges of safety in the sea, thereby discouraging  foreign ships from plying Nigeria’s Eastern maritime corridor.

He also announced plans to monitor movement of vessels on Nigeria’s waterways to discourage nefarious activities in the maritime business.

NPA boss disclosed this on Tuesday at the weekly Presidential Briefing organised by the Presidential Communications Team, in Abuja.

He said that the stealing of the buoys has been hampering cargo ships from using the major ports along the Eastern waterways of  Calabar, Port Harcourt, Onne, and Warri Seaports. 

Koko said, “Each of the buoys, which serve as navigational route signs, cost  between N12 million and N20 million, even as no fewer than 25 of these maritime safety equipment have been stolen from Nigerians waters this year alone”.

Koko explained that apart from the cost of the buoys, it is even costly to install and deploy them on the waters.

He lamented that the absence of these buoys put ships at risk of sailing aground, a fear that many foreign ship captains prefer to stay off parts of Nigerian waters, which consequently affect government revenue at the affected ports.

As part of measures to stop the trend, the NPA boss said the Authority had been engaging with the locals and their leaders in the areas and communities where the theft occurred, explaining to them how their local economy is also negatively affected by the incidents.

These buoys stolen by the vandals are often turned into scrap, he stated.

He also explained that in some cases, the communities may not be aware that the vandals operate within their vicinity, adding that in some cases the buoys are affected by nature.

He said some of the buoys “have solar panels and sensors; and there is a beacon light there that flashes at night. So the first thing they do is to vandalize that sensor.

“And then you just have iron that has no light, and they can just drag it, cut off these …that is what they do.

“We can monitor it if it is not disconnected. Atimes we send in our boats to go round scouting for it. And to also be fair to the communities. We have had some instances where the buoys were naturally taken away by nature, they went adrift, they ended up on the shore of some communities. 

“And to be fair to them, they have actually called us a couple of times to tell us that there’s a buoys that has gone adrift and it is in our community. And we thank them for that. 

“We believe probably the communities do not even know the individuals that are involved in these activities. So we are monitoring the buoys. And that’s how we got to know how many are stolen any day it’s stolen. 

“Because the captains are also taking vessels in and out of the water channels, they will naturally know when they can t find the beacons on the buoys, meaning that something is missing, and they normally report it.”

He said efforts have not been spared to make the Eastern maritime corridor viable for investors.

Meanwhile, he also said that despite the setback  the Onne Port is currently the fastest growing seaport in Nigeria as he said it is booming with import and export activities.

The NPA boss however disclosed that it generated N172 billion in the first half of 2022 and has earmarked $1.3 billion for the Lekki Deep Ports.

He also revealed that about ten export processing terminals where exporters can package and label containers before being taken to the ports have been licensed. 

Koko said efforts have not been spared to make the Eastern maritime corridor viable for investors.

According to him, the Calabar and Onne Ports are now ISO-certified and have seen tremendous increase in traffic, not just imports but also exports, with Onne becoming the fastest-growing port in Nigeria today, he said.

“In Onne being the fastest 

In terms of export also, there is an export processing terminal within Onne itself. One of the terminal operators created an export processing terminal which we licensed and they have all the equipment, the technology and the processes to send it out .

“One of the terminal operators also expanded their terminals, they have spent about $100 million dollars in terms of terminal expansion, that is West African Container Terminal. And so they have created more strategic areas, they are able to collect more cargo, and they don’t have space problems actually. And they have newer equipment, they have cranes, they have RTGS, and so on and so forth.

“So probably, if you’re able to send in your cargo and clear it faster naturally, you are likely to go there also.”

Koko further said, “In terms of percentage input, Onne has done 11,800 metric tons half of this year. We are seeing that the increase in percentage is high, probably because it’s easier to do business in Onne now. 

“And because we have deployed more equipment in Onne, more personnel, we have paid attention to ensure that we made the port more competitive. In terms of export also, there’s an export processing terminal within Onne itself.”

He further revealed that one of the Terminal Operators there – West Africa Container Terminal (WACT) –  has invested more than $100m in terminal expansion, deployment of equipment and technology.

On the issue of Inland Ports, the NPA MD said the Nigeria Shippers Council is responsible for the setting up and the operations of the inland ports. 

He, however, added, “I know that there is a collaboration between the inland ports and our terminal operators, what we have requested the terminal operators to do is to enter a relationship with the inland ports so that an inland port in Ilorin, in Sokoto or in Onitsha or wherever can use let’s say in Onitsha, the point of destination will be Onitsha but of course it will naturally come through one of the ports either Lagos, Apapa or Tin Can. 

“So that relationship is there, some of them are talking with APMT others and discussing with other people, there are issues to do with the tariffs and also in terms of payment, the issue of charges for empty containers because of course they will use containers to send in the cargo to the hinterlands to the dry ports. 

“So these are issues that have been discussed. Some of the terminal operators have requested for bonds from the inland dry ports. Some of the inland reports are saying don’t charge us double, reduce these tariffs because for the inland dry ports to be competitive, their cost should be as minimal as possible. And we believe that that collaboration has worked …we have seen activity has increased.”

Speaking on the dredging of other ports especially in the eastern corridor, he said, “The dredging of other ports or other rivers. When you dredge other rivers, what you have done is that you have increased the length of navigable river parts  throughout the country. 

“We are working with the Nigerian Inland Waterways. They are doing their studies and we are working with them, but for now what they are using is badges, they are using badges for instance for Onne to Onitsha. They are using badges to other locations which we keep encouraging and whenever the need arises, we will continue that collaboration to ensure that the dredging of those rivers take place.”

Explaining government efforts to install tracking devices to monitor the movement of vessels on the sea, he said that NPA has been trying to procure the Vehicle Tracking System, VTS, and that a consultant has been hired to do the work.

He also said that they are installing an Automatic Identification System to monitor movement of vessels.

On VTS, he said, “it is a system that communicates with the AIS, the AIS is on the vessel and that is the one they switch off to avoid being dictated by the VTS. VTS is actually a tracking system that can track any vessel that is coming, the AIS is a tracking device that can communicate with the VTS but to avoid detection they switch it off and anytime it comes up, the VTS will still bring all the details of the vessel.”

On whether there is punishment for any vessel that switches off the AIS to perpetuate crime on the sea, he said, such a vessel, if detected , would be blacklisted by the government. 

Koko also said that to discourage shipping lines from making the country a dumping ground with empty containers, 46 Container Holding Bays have been created and 17 truck packs established.

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