The recent move by the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to increase cargo traffic to the Eastern ports has been attracting commendations from stakeholders.
The Eastern ports, which are situated in the Gulf of Guinea, recorded improvement in ship traffic and other operational efficiencies in 2019.
In ensuring that vessels carrying containers also berth at the Eastern ports, the NPA, in a statement it issued in June 2019, said it has approved a 10 per cent discount on harbour dues for specific vessels calling at the ports in Cross River, Rivers and Delta states (known as the Eastern ports), to apply with immediate effect.
The Managing Director of the NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman, explained that the specific vessels that will enjoy the discount are: (i) container vessels with at least 250 twenty-foot equivalent units; (ii) general cargo vessels with at least 16,000 metric tonnes; (iii) combo vessels with, at least, 16,000 metric tonnes; and (iv) roll-on-roll-off vessels with, at least, 250 units of vehicles.
Mrs Usman said that the discount will not apply to the following vessels: (i) vessels coming in ballast (without any cargo); (ii) vessels calling at private jetties; and (iii) vessels carrying liquid bulk.
According to her, the initiative is one of the series of steps taken by the NPA and the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) to decongest the Lagos ports and divert vessel traffic to the Eastern ports.
To set the stage, the NPA, in 2018, commenced the dredging of the Warri port at the whopping cost of N16.150 billion and equally deployed equipment worth over USD30 million.
The establishment of this initiative, according to Usman, is in furtherance to the powers of NPA to, among others, regulate the use of Nigerian ports (Section 7(a)(b) of the Nigerian Port Authority Act, Cap. N126 LFN 2004 (the Act), and grant discounts on harbour dues in Nigerian ports (Section 71 of the Act).
The initiative of the present management of the NPA, according to Bolaji Akinola, the spokesman of the Seaports and Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), is to (i) decongest the Lagos port; (ii) divert vessel traffic away from the Lagos port and (iii) promote the use of the Eastern ports.
Akinola explained that the benefits of this initiative cannot be quantified with the fingers of one hand.
“The economic activities in the Eastern ports and revenue will be on the rise. Employment opportunities will be readily available. The haulage of cargoes from the Lagos port to the eastern part of Nigeria and its environs will no more be necessary,” he added.
Findings by Daily Trust revealed that the 2019 operational records show that the ports in Rivers State had recorded about nine vessels that made port calls for the first time, hence increased throughput and revenue for the port.
These vessels ordinary would have stopped at the Lagos port, which is already congested. However, with management interaction with the shipping community, this was made possible.
Daily Trust checks also showed that vessels that made port calls in the year under review included the NNLG vessel (LPG) by name NAVIGATOR CAPRICON belonging to the NLNG, and which berthed on October 20, 2019.
This is the first LPG product that was brought direct to the South-east.
The second is MV NORTHERN DANCE. She came in on May 22, 2019 and discharged 26,000MT in Port Harcourt
The third vessel, which was chartered by Zalcom Nigeria and goes by the name MV ZAFER, came in on September 8, 2019.
MV KOTA BAKTI came in on February 18, 2019 and discharged general cargo in Port Harcourt.
The Head, Corporate Communications of the NPA, Jatto Adams, said that the intensified effort to open up the Eastern ports has to do with the federal government’s policy on ease of doing business and the recent closure of the borders to avoid smuggling.
Adams said that the two factors have also contributed to the success of the ports.
The Eastern Port Manager, Engineer Yunusa Ibrahim Anji, at a gathering of stakeholders, reiterated the benefits of patronizing the ports in the East.
Anji said that from all indications, it would appear that the successful maiden voyage of the containership MV Boreas, owned by Marguisa Shipping Company, has provided the much-needed pep for more traffic of container vessels to the Calabar Port.
The MV Boreas made its maiden voyage to Calabar in September 2019 after over 11 years of stoppage of containership service by Baco Liner Services and Maersk Line Shipping Company, the two major shipping lines that operated containership services to the Calabar Port.
Barely two months after the last call of MV Boreas to Calabar, two more container vessels, MV Zea Walawe and MV MCP Adamax, commenced calls to Calabar Port, with the duo arriving back-to-back at Calabar in November.
Since the stoppage of containership services to Calabar, the Calabar Port landscape has been awash with protests from shippers and other stakeholders.
Terminal operators at the port have been complaining over the years that the halt of containerized cargo operations has caused a lull in their activities.
The port operators insist that the situation has hindered the attainment of their financial projections and rendered their huge investments in acquisition and maintenance of container handling equipment unprofitable.
It was in the wake of the congestion at the Lagos Port Complex that Mrs Usman, in a meeting with stakeholders in Lagos, encouraged shippers and shipping operators to consider using the Eastern ports to ease the intense pressure on the Lagos ports.
A Spain-based shipping company, Marguisa Shipping Line, decided to utilise the Managing Director’s suggestion. The company approached ECM Terminals, Calabar Port management and the Calabar shipping community for discussions on the commencement of containership service to Calabar.
Top on Marguisa’s list of requirements for the commence of this service were assurance of quick turnaround from relevant agencies, stakeholders’ assurance of cargo availability for their incoming and outgoing trips from Calabar and some level of rebate on NPA charges to compensate for the shallow draft of the channel, among others.
Adams explained that it was based on the feedback received from the Calabar Port management and their direct interactions with Marguisa that the Managing Director and Executive Management of NPA approved the highly celebrated 10 per cent rebate on ship charges for all containerships that decided to use the Eastern ports.
Although some maritime experts had expressed their belief that the Calabar port should have been granted more than the 10 per cent rebate due to its disadvantaged situation, others have described the gesture by the NPA management as a good start that will set the port on the course to operational vibrancy.
While the clamour of the capital dredging of the Calabar Port channel continues to resonate across the nation, observers have noted that there seems to be an emerging niche for Calabar in the flat-bottom ship market. Flat-bottom vessels that can sail through the port’s windy channel without raising concerns about the shallow draft have become the newest bride of the Calabar Port.
Taking a retrospective look at this development, one will recall that an experimentation of the use of flat-bottom vessels was earlier carried out successfully at the Calabar Port in 2017 when Atlantic Bulk Carrier’s flat-bottom bulkers, the MV Desert Ranger and MV Desert Harrier, made maiden calls to the Calabar Port, laden with bulk wheat.
The vessels, which were about 200 metres length overall, were successfully manoeuvred across the port’s windy channel to the berth, through the facilitation of an extra tug boat approved for the port by the executive management of the NPA.
The Calabar Port pilot that brought the two state-of-the-art vessels, Pilot Mohammed Bida, was not left out in the wave of accolades that ensued after the berthing of the vessels, as the Executive Management of NPA went further to bestow the Best Worker of the Year Award on him, with the attendant double promotion from Grade level 09 to 12.
Following the Managing Director’s directive on the need to attract more flat-bottom vessels to Calabar, the port’s management launched a massive publicity campaign on various media platforms to encourage shippers to use the Calabar Port.
One of such campaign tools is the development of an outstanding port documentary tagged, ‘Why Shippers Should Prefer Calabar Port.’
Many stakeholders are convinced that the exploits of MV Desert Ranger and MV Desert Harrier provided the foundational confidence that propelled Marguisa to deploy MV Boreas to the Calabar Port.
With the successful voyage of MV Boreas, Marguisa Shipping Line has dedicated a container vessel to operate regular calls to the Calabar Port, and there are indications that more containerships will join the Calabar route.