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Low draught hinders shipping business

By Godfrey Bivbere

While Private Terminal Operators (PTO) are groaning over the failure of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Lagos Channel Management (LCM) to dredge the Lagos ports channel to between 13 to 14 metres as contained in the concession agreement, the NPA/LCM are smiling to the bank with over $100 million being collected annually from pilotage and towage services.

A dredger at work

The terminal operators are presently bearing the brunt of the inability or unwillingness of the NPA/LCM to meet their responsibility and have been forced to make do with the present draught of between 10 to 11 metres which makes it impossible for bigger vessels to call at the ports in Lagos.

While they are unwilling to come out with the facts about the draught of both the channel leading to the port and those at the various berths, when Ports and Habours called the Media Consultant of APM Terminals Apapa Limited, Mr. Bolaji Akinola on the issue, he said they could not speak on it but instead directed Ports and Habours to the NPA.

Similar efforts to speak with the spokesman of Sifax Group, Mr. Oliver Omajuwa, was unsuccessful as he did not pick up the call when Ports and Habours called him.

An official of one of the terminal told Ports and Habours that they would not want to be drawn into any kind of controversy but the truth of the matter is that “we are still operating at a draught of about 11 metres which is grossly inadequate.”
A chief executive of one of the terminals recently complained about the action of the relevant body to dredge the channel in accordance with the concession agreement entered into with government.

Investigations revealed that between 2007 and 2009, vessel traffic into the Apapa and Tin-Can Island ports had increased from 2,000 vessels to 3,500, while the channels continued to accommodate vessels of  higher draught without marine accidents as vessels were always running aground along the channel because of its shallow nature.

This, Ports and Habours can reveal, was as a result of the improved storage facilities at the terminals and better management of containers by PTO.

There was always delay of upward of four days for vessels to manoeuvre into the ports from the fare-well buoy after completing their international voyage. The situation caused delayed turn-around for the vessel to the extent that owners started collecting extra charges.

It also attracted high insurance premium because of the increasing risk of piracy at anchorage around the Lagos waters.
Managing Director of LCM, Mr. Danny Fuch told Ports and Habours that it is not true that the draught is still below 13 meters. Fuch said that there are different situation for the different berths which makes impossible for all the berths to be dredged to the same level.

He however noted that the issues involved in the dredging of the channel can not be discussed on phone and asked that our reporter should call at the office the next morning (Tuesday 28/09/10) at LCM office for a proper interview.
When Ports and Habours got there at about 10.50am, our reporter was made to wait for about 15 minutes at the gate before he was ushered to the office where he had to wait for another 25 minutes. Our reporter had to leave the office to keep another appointment.

Similarly, Musa Ileya, Assistant General Manager in charge of Public Affairs of the NPA in his response when contacted by Ports and Habours said maintenance of the channel is ongoing and that the 13 to 14 metres draught mark can not be achieved in one day.

Asked why it is taking about five years after the concession agreement to achieve the required draught level, the NPA spokesman said he could not hear our reporter properly, assuring that he would call back and the phone line went dead.
Several hours after when Ports and Habours tried to call him when our reporter did not hear from him, his phone line was said to have been switched-off.

The President, Nigerian Chapter of Institute of Transport Administration, Mr. Lucky Amiwero, was recently quoted to have stressed that it is the responsibility of the government to ensure availability of deep water channels or berths. In his opinion, there is no way inadequate investments in dredging could bring about good work for the

To him, the current pace in dredging is incapable of dealing appropriately with the most pressing navigational problems of the ports.

He canvassed change, which will see dredging as an investment in economic growth.
Like other concerned stakeholders, Amiwero maintained that the government is behind schedule on achieving targets on dredging.

By now, the NPA ought to have accomplished a radical capital dredging to differentiate the nation’s ports from those of rival countries, but irregular work has not improved the channels. Within a short time, silt and debris find their way back to the waterways, reducing the draught. The NPA Act gave it the exclusive responsibility to maintain the channels and make it navigable by providing unhindered access to the ports.

It also gave the NPA the power to discharge these responsibilities through any other persons authorised by it. It is by virtue of this enabling law that the dredging contract of the Lagos ports was awarded to the Lagos Channels Management Company Limited.

The port is the gateway to the nation’s economy. It is an all_weather port. In many ways, it enjoys an enviable position among the nation’s ports. Vessel traffic is up by over 65 per cent and an increase in the number of larger vessels with deeper draughts by 30 per cent. But the port has not been able to develop into one of the most_modern ports in the sub-region, matching international standards.

The situation is getting worse by the fact that the chart about the waterway is said to be unreliable.
Watchers expect the capital dredging plan to achieve a 13.5_metre depth for Apapa Port. This has not been possible. But Lagos Channels Management Company Ltd said it attained a draught of 13.5 metres along the Lagos axis, including Apapa and Badagry creeks.
The situation is not different in the South-South area were other ports are located.
In Port Harcourt, NPA in partnership with Bonny Channel Company (BCC) was supposed to dredge the Bonny Channel from 6.4 meters to 11 metres to serve the LNG vessels.

Though there are security challenges in the area threatening projects, watchers still look up to the Bonny Channel Company to ensure safety and better accessibility of calling ships to the area.

The Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Company (NLNG) is supporting the dredging project. The gas company needs deeper and continuous dredging of the Bonny Channel to cater for her modern gas carriers. This involves regular management of the navigation aids like buoys through refurbishment, position monitoring and maintenance.

The company carries out bathymetric surveys to determine the dredging needs along the channel and river as well as maintenance dredging of the waterways to navigable depth for all users.

The capital is done only in the channel, while maintenance is to be done on the stretch. The capital dredging is to accommodate larger vessels and LNG vessels. Warri and Calabar are like backwaters.
The dredging of Calabar Port has drawn concerns as there are indications that the contract for the channel would be re_awarded by the Federal Government. This means the government would have wasted $56 million as the channel was dredged by two companies about two years ago.

Former Minister of Transport, Alhaji Ibrahim Bio, had condemned the dredging work at the Calabar channel and had described the $56 million spent on the first dredging of the 86 kilometres port channel as a waste.

The government, he had said, was considering a fresh contract for the channel. The contract for the initial dredging was awarded to two firms, Jan De Nul of Netherlands and Van Oord of Belgium in 2006.
He explained that Jan De Nul was to dredge from 1 to 55 km while Van Oord was to dredge the balance and to remove 12.750 cubic metres of sand from the 86km.

The minister criticised the dredging, saying “they (the contractors) have been able to complete the expected distance but the 12.750_cubic metre volume of sand was not removed”.

With the development and the poor nature of the Calabar channel, he said: “We have to revisit the contract with a view to re-awarding it. One of the technical issues with Calabar Port is siltation. The channel has the highest siltation of 36 per cent”.


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