As Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA)’s incentives fail to yield positive result, incessant robbery attacks, high salinity and other challenges have made the eastern ports unpopular for shipping lines and port users, BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
Fear of paying for unnecessary delay of vessels, shallow waters and activities of sea robbers have deterred importers from patronising four eastern ports in Calabar, Warri, Port Harcourt and Onne for over a decade.
It was learnt that these problems have consistently make trade facilitation and life difficult for the importers.
For instance, bigger vessels were unable to access the ports because of shallow waters in Warri, Calabar and Port Harcourt ports.
It was learnt that while high siltation at the Calabar Port has impeded safe navigation, the Port Harcourt Port has also suffered under constant pirate attacks which has made the port unpopular for foreign shipping lines.
Other challenges include: deplorable berths, decayed infrastructure, dearth of finger mooring jetties to berth NPA crafts, lack of operational vehicles and fire hydrants at quays.
It was gathered that while the Calabar port suffers from shallow draught, the Onne port is combating insecurity such as pirate attacks and sea robbery despite the number of incentives that the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) had conceded to attract high patronage to the four ports.
One of the incentives is a 10 per cent discount on harbour dues in all concession terminals at the Eastern ports
Also, the discount applied to harbour dues payable by container vessels with at least 250 20-foot equivalent units, general cargo vessels with at least 16,000 metric tonnes, combo vessels with at least 16,000metric tonnes and roll- on roll- off vessels with at least 250 units of vehicles.
Because of insecurity and high salinity, it was gathered that shipment of cargoes from China to Lagos which is about $1,500, costs between $4,000 and $4,500 to Calabar Port.
In addition, vessels calling at Onne Port in Rivers State also slammed $45,000 (N16.2milion) on importers for an average of six hours per night for delay to berth. These developments have therefore, led to the continued dwindling revenue fortunes of the Nigerian ports Authority (NPA).
Worried by the low patronage by the importers, the Acting Managing Director of NPA, Mohammed Bello-Koko, complain about the continued refusal of importers and shipping companies to patronise the Eastern ports.
The managing director explained that even though the decision to ship cargoes to the ports lies entirely with importers,
NPA efforts to attract them to these ports were without success. Bello-Koko said: “What we did first was to provide incentives for shipping lines for operations at ports of Calabar, Warri and Rivers.
We gave most to Calabar and Delta. The idea was to take their vessels into those locations.
That has worked a bit; we also specified the kind of vessels that would come in and get those discounts. We had stakeholders’ engagement to encourage importers to take their vessels to those locations.
We provided more marine services to those locations. But the usage of those ports depends on the importers. You cannot force an importer to take his goods to Calabar or Warri.”
For instance, he said that a lot of the cargoes coming into the country were being used in Lagos, noting that there must be enough incentives for the importers to persuade them to take his cargo to Warri and then bring it back to his factory in Lagos.
Also, Bello-Koko said that some of the challenges revolve around the roads, explaining that nobody could import to Calabar and bringing it back to Lagos of the hurdles on the roads.
He said: “We had to write to the Federal Ministry of Works concerning Ikom bridge to encourage importers to use Calabar Port. Calabar Port is nearest to the Northeast of the country. So, if we encourage the use of that port, it means that all imports going to the Northeast pass through Calabar.
“The problem there is that it has the longest channel and passing through the channel is very expensive. We are encouraging the use of those ports and we are giving incentives to the shipping companies to bring in their goods to those ports.” But despite the incentives, Koko lamented that the Eastern ports had not really attracted the kind of patronage that was commensurate with the level of Investments in the ports.
Because of the challenges, no fewer than 754 vessels deserted the ports within a period between 2013 and 2016 Specifically, the number of vessels that berthed at the ports receded from 2,268 vessels in 2013 to 1514 in 2016.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the number of vessels that berthed at the Delta port fell from 609 in 2013 to 433 in 2016, while the Gross Registered Tonnage at the port also dropped from 8,687,160 in 2013 to 6,177,809 in 2016.
Government should provide adequate infrastructure and security for shipping lines and importers using the eastern ports.