By Godfrey Bivbere
Petroleum tanker drivers have grounded operations at the Calabar port bringing port and businesses to a halt at the Calabar Export Processing Zone, EPZ, following indiscriminate parking while waiting to load petroleum products from over 10 numerous tank farms around and within the EPZ.
The situation at the moment has become so frustrating that port users, visitors and residents around the area spend between 30 minutes to two hours to get to the port or the EPZ, a journey of less 10 minutes before now.
When Vanguard Maritime Report visited the EPZ premises, there were about several tank farms located within the zone.
Despite the huge potentials of the port to serve, not just the state and the neighbouring states, but also north eastern states, business activities have remained very low because of the low channel leading to the port.
President of the Nigerian Shippers Association, NSA, Cross Rivers Chapter, Mike Ogodo, said he had warned the government years back when the construction of the tank farms commenced, that it would hinder port operations when trucks starts coming to queue up to load petroleum products from these facilities, but the then government of Cross Rivers state did not pay any attention to the warnings.
He said NSA, Cross Rivers chapter, had advised that the tank farms would not benefit Cross River community nor would it provide the much needed employment for the state indigenes.
He further warned that the situation may even get worse unless urgent steps are taken to address the issue.
Ogodo also called on the Ben Ayade led administration in the state to do something about the activities of truck drivers before they completed ground the little operations still going on at the port.
He observed that the multi million naira export business from the port and the little consignments coming through the port would varnish if the governor do not step in urgently.
Similarly, he also called on the governor to lead the efforts towards the dredging of the channel leading to the port on behalf of all port users as the benefit to the state and its indigenes is better imagined.
Calabar Port is strategically situated to serve the maritime and logistics needs of 16 Northern states, the commercial cities of Aba, Onitsha and Nnewi as well as the neighbouring states of the South-South region of the country.
Industry experts also noted the proximity of Calabar Port to Equatorial Guinea and Cameroun emphasises its stratergic importance as potential hub for the West African Oil and Gas logistics.
Despite spending over N32.1billion and awarding the contract for the dredging of Calabar port channel three times by various management of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, the channel has still not gone beyond the 6.4 meter draught it stood at over a decade ago.
The first contract for the dredging of the channel was awarded by the administration of General Sanni Abacha in 1996 at the cost of N3 billion before it was again awarded by former President Olusegun Obasanjo regime in 2006 for over $55 million.
There were complaints that the federal government did not make provisions for the maintenance dredging and the high rate of siltation (the return of sand to the channel after dredging) in the area made erroded the previous efforts.
Shippers in calabar last year cried out to the government to come to their aid as the low draught of the channel was affecting port operations and hindering their businesses.
According to Ogodo, following the cry to the state government about the effect of the channel on their businesses, the former governor, Liyel Imoke, had gone to the federal government to make a case for the dredging.
Ogodo however expressed surprise that when the contract was finally awarded they were not aware. He said they woke up one morning in November last year to find out that there was a lock down of the state capital because the then vice President, Namadi Sambo, was coming to flag off the dredging project.
He said the shipping community was happy when, in December last year, there was movement of equipment to site for the commencement of the dredging, but that their joy was cut short when they discovered that the contractors were no where to be found a month after.