By UDEME CLEMENT

Efforts by APM Terminals Apapa Limited, the concessionaire managing Apapa ports, Nigeria ’s largest container terminal to make Apapa one of the most productive container terminals in the world, are fast becoming a reality. The concession of Apapa Container Terminal (ACT) in 2006 has  saved the country an estimated N32.2 billion annually, previously collected by shipping lines as congestion surcharge.

The terminal now has state-of-the-art crane simulator, which is the first of its kind in West and Central Africa. The terminal handles over 50 per cent of all imports to Nigeria , thereby making the facility important to trade in Nigeria and through Africa.

Massive infrastructure development, modern technology and measures put in place to transform the ports have attracted commendations from major stakeholders in the maritime sector. Recently, the co-ordinating minister of the economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and the Minister of Transport, Idris Umar visited the ports.

The Managing Director of APMT, Mr. Dallas Hampton, speaks on the strategies mapped out by his company to make Apapa terminal the largest in West Africa within the next 12 months and one of the most productive in the world in the near future.

During the tour of the ports, we discovered that the terminal has been rapidly transformed. What measures did you put in place to modernise Nigeria ’s largest container terminal?

It was so difficult when we commenced operations, because we took over the ports six years ago from a very low state. The challenges facing the terminal were enormous. The buildings and equipment were run down with trees growing up through the equipment in some areas.

There was significant vessel congestion, even as the dysfunctional stacking system posed a serious challenge.  The ports complex was characterised by numerous commercials activities and large human traffic within the complex, which hindered core ports operations and efficiency in the system.

We started by restricting the movement of people from having access to the ports without any tangible business to do in the ports. All over the world, commercial activities are not allowed within the ports. So, we stopped buying and selling within the ports to ensure operational efficiency.

We embarked on acquisition of new and modern equipment to increase capacity utilisation in the ports operations to enhance outputs maximisation. In that capacity, we have invested over $210million in automated processes and equipment in the last six years to ensure that the ports functions optimally. The investment included purchase of modern equipment as well as upgrading of the terminal to meet internationally acceptable standard, like what obtains in developed countries.

Can you give us the break down of investments in the ports with statistics in naira and kobo?

The capital investment in the project was carried out in a two-phased expansion programmes, which fast tracked operations and resulted in faster cargo clearance, cost effectiveness and corruption reduction at the ports. At present, vessel waiting time is down from over 28 days to less than 24 hours, thereby saving Nigeria ’s economy about $200 million annually in congestion fees alone.

In the first two phases of the terminal development we invested in infrastructure, handling equipment, modernisation of the teminal’s IT hardware and the software systems. We installed state-of-the-art crane simulator, which is the first of its kind in West and Central Africa . Investment in the terminal is designed to improve efficiency with particular focus on berthing conditions, container pick-up trucks, yard performance, Customs, automated gate system, inland haulage and logistics.

The biggest contribution of APMT in Apapa has been health in the areas security of port users, security of cargo and safety, which is paramount in our operations. We ensure high level of professionalism in the business by maintaining effective safety culture, responsible for the substantial reduction in occupational hazards at the ports.

What is your company doing in the area of capacity building to ensure man-power development?

We make provision for regular training and re-training programmes to ensure increased productivity in the daily ports operations. For instance, we installed state-of-the-art crane simulator in the terminal, which is the first of its kind in West and Central Africa , where we train our employees to operate sophisticated Ship-To-Shore (STS) and Rubber-tired Gantry (RTG) cranes, without exposing them to risks of training on real equipment.

The staff are trained to handle ports tasks efficiently. Apapa terminal has the best simulators in the entire West Africa and people even send their staff here for training. The simulators and standard processes are put in place to ensure man-power development.

Also, many of the investments are made to enhance transfer of technology and skills to Nigerians. For example, the RTG cranes acquired between 2007 and 2008 required intensive training of operators.  To ensure safety, we trace every movement as well as activity in the terminal. We have equipped every machinery with Vehicle-Mounted Terminal (VMT) and most of our employees now carry hand-held devices and have received training on how to use them.

What is the capacity of your work-force?

Talking about our workforce, it would interest you to know that at APMT, we are keying fully into the local content policy of the Federal Government by engaging about 98 per cent Nigerians in the day to day operations in the terminal. For instance, the company has a work force of over 850 people and only 10 are expatriates.

The expatriates are important in the business to enhance technology transfer and technical-know-how. This has significantly increased efficiency in the system, as productivity in the ports has tripled in the last six years. As a result, the terminal now handles approximately about 50 per cent of all containers imported into the country.

What is APMT doing in the area of corporate social responsibility?

AMPT is involved in community development, donations to orphanages and equipment to numerous schools in Lagos . Our company offered scholars to over 50 students in Nigeria . Others include rehabilitation of schools within Apapa area and donation of computers to schools among many others.

About 72 per cent of our total turnover at Apapa is re-circulated back into the society, with 45 per cent directly going to the local community in form of procurement, salaries and taxes. We have created thousands of jobs in Lagos and other places in the country as a result of our operations in the terminal. More than 165 truckers also benefit from the termial’s operations.

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