EFFORTS by the present government and a section of the maritime business community to rejig the Eastern Ports have received significant boost following the decisions of major international shipping companies, including Hull Blythe and Maerskline, to return to the Calabar and Onne ports.
In August last year, Hull Blyth facilitated a container ship, ‘MN Boreas’ call to Calabar Port after more than 15 years of ship call by Marguisa Lines.
Managing Director of Hull Blyth Nigeria Limited, Mr. Christian Holm, said his firm alongside their clients including Marguisa Lines, owners of MN Boreas is committed to exploring ways to open up Calabar Port to shipping trade and more business opportunities. Holm gave the insight during the visit of the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee that investigated why Warri, Port Harcourt, Calabar and Onne Ports were not enjoying capacity utilization.
Holm said, “We are excited about the willingness of Marguisa Lines to invest in the port and in new services, and all the new opportunities that opens up for trade and development in Calabar and beyond, now that the port is connected with a global container liner service.”
He, however, identified undeveloped infrastructure, shallow water draft, poor road infrastructure and insecurity as factors hindering large vessels from calling the ports outside Lagos, noting that port complexes outside Lagos “have not been upgraded in accordance with modern seaborne trade. This relates especially to containerized trade, where the requirements for sizeable port container yards and related handling equipment are not met.”
The Hull Blyth boss also identified other operational possible drawbacks to include road infrastructure to connect the ports with the importers and exporters, which he says can negatively impact on the efficient delivery and distribution of shipping goods.
Marguisa Lines is headquartered in Madrid, Spain, and since 1990, has specialized in liner transportation between the Mediterranean and West Africa. Its main service operates between the ports of Algeciras in Spain and Malabo in Equatorial Guinea, and connects a large network of global and regional ports.
Significantly, Holm noted that, “The port of Malabo will also serve as hub port for the feeder vessel calling at Calabar on regular basis.” On the other hand, Maerskline has also announced its decision directing its vessels to the Onne Port, while effectively discontinuing ship call to Lagos Ports.
A statement by Maerskline said “It is our pleasure to announce that our Far East (China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore) service will no longer be calling Lagos Ports but now comes to Onne directly, giving you a reduced transit time. This is effective this January 2020.
“Maersk encourages all her customers to take advantage of our ocean and inland products (Cargo Trucking, Warehousing, Customs House Brokerage, Value Protect, spot booking on export cargo etc) for a complete end -to-end service experience.”
The federal government through the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping (NCS), early last year, expressed strong desire to see ports in the eastern geopolitical zone reconnect with active shipping activities.
The NPA was later to embark on a number of support initiatives to drive the process for the realignments of eastern system towards attracting the desired cargo shipping traffic. One of such initiative was the proposed 30 per cent tariff reduction to stimulate stakeholders’ patronage; a decision that was made at a one-day strategy meeting/workshop organized by NCS, with the theme “Maximizing Economics of The Eastern Port.”
At the meeting, stakeholders and government officials also agreed on the need for the development of future ports based on strategic master plan and functional blueprint to accommodate changes and expansion.
Managing Director of NPA, Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman, however, said during the meeting that her agency’s gesture will amount to very little unless other levy collecting agencies of government also offers reasonable tax cut which alone can attract the expected patronage and efficient utilization of the eastern ports.
The NPA boss who was represented by the then General Manager, Security, Capt. Iheanacho Ebubeogu now retired, noted that only an affirmative and collective action plan can lead to the resuscitation of eastern ports.
He said, “We must look at our tariff across board. We have reviewed our tariff and only NPA did it and when I mean review of tariff across board, NPA tariff has come down. NIMASA should reduce their Cabotage tariff, Customs tariff should come down so that if the differential between ports in Lagos and Eastern port is 30percent, people can be motivated given that security (issues) have been addressed. I don’t want us to think if we have addressed security, everything has been achieved, but other cost components must also come down”, he said.
President of NCS, Mr. Andy Isichie, on his part said the underutilization of eastern ports will continually take toll on the nation’s economy, as a neglected asset with great potentials to expand the nation’s economic horizon.