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Why it’s difficult to track rogue vessels –NPA MD, Bello-Koko

Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Mohammed Bello Koko, in an interaction session with newsmen organized by the Presidential Media Team speaks on efforts being made to rehabilitate ageing Apapa Ports, curbing red-tapism and deployment of technology to curb oil theft. LAWRENCE OLAOYE was there

 

When will the NPA start transporting cargoes by rail?

Actually, our intention of transporting cargoes using the rail has already commenced. It commenced about a year ago. However, I know that the Nigerian Railway Corporation needs more stock in terms of the load that they need to carry more containers.

 

But I know that recently the Minister of Transportation at a certain meeting had talked about the need for Nigeria Railway Corporation to restock, the need for Nigeria Ports Authority and Nigeria Railway Corporation to also sit down and work with other dry ports in the hinterland towards ensuring that when their cargo comes in to the ports, the trains are actually used to evacuate those cargoes.

But I can assure you that that has already commenced. You mentioned some of the new ports NPA is developing and we do know that the country has some ports that are not effective, for instance the Calabar ports. There has been controversy over the dredging and there’s an allegation that because of man knows man syndrome, the contractor that was given the project has abandoned it and nothing has happened.

So what is happening with Calabar ports? For Calabar port, we all know that there’s a court case. A very old court case before this government came into power between the Nigerian Ports Authority and the company that was awarded the contract.

 

There was an issue that has to do with whether the dredging was done in that period or not. While the matter is subjudice but I would like to address it. In recent times, we have explored the possibility of an out of court settlement between the Nigerian Ports Authority and the said company.

 

Until that is done, actually, nothing can be done. But currently what we are working on is how to survey the channel itself to actually determine the current draft of the channel from beginning of the channel to the end. And we will pay attention in terms of rehabilitation of the keys in that location and the port facilities. But the out of court settlement is ongoing, the Minister of Transportation is looking at it with Nigerian Ports Authority.

 

And I believe that before the end of the year, we should find a workable solution to that court case.

Recently in August, a vessel carrying crude found its way into our waterways and was arrested. It is believed NPA had been aware of the movement of the vessel that was arrested.  What really happened that you were unable to know the movement of that vessel?

 

Now, the intelligent persons bringing in vessels with crude, one of the things they do is that they shut down the Automation Identification System (AIS).

This is what is needed in terms of transmission for you to even know when the vessel comes in, and the locations they go into. They come in legally but then they go by the left hand side to commit illegal activities after switching off the AIS.

And in my presentation, I have mentioned that we are going ahead to deploy what we call the VTS, and we are working with NASA to also have information in terms of vessel movement.

Once we are able to do that I believe movements of vessels into the country will be impossible; it will be very difficult for them to come into the country without being monitored. Some of these systems, even if you switch off your AIS today and switch it on in the next six months, once you switch it on, it will  actually show the person looking for that vessel, all the locations that vessel has been and for how long and what dates. And this is what the Nigerian Ports Authority needs. This is what the nation needs.

Smaller African countries have had this thing for so long. And it is now that we are working to ensure that these systems are deployed in Nigeria. We have the support of the Federal Ministry of Transportation. The minister has made it one of his core mandates, I think one of the low hanging fruits as he calls it, and he’s working with us closely to ensure that this is deployed.

 

Many Nigerian exporters prefer to go to the Cotonou Port, possibly for efficiency sake or in terms of cargo management. Some of the reasons for this as told by the former transportation minister earlier this year are that in Nigerian ports, you have red tapes, rent seeking, corrupt illegal charges among other factors.  Why have these issues persisted and what can you pledge that this administration by way of getting rid of menace?

 

In my presentation and I did that purposely because I needed everyone to understand the responsibilities of the Nigerian Ports Authority. The NPA does not handle cargo, it is the terminal operator. Our responsibility is to bring in the vessels.

However, now what is the process of cargo exports? One of the things they have complained about is the NXP form, which is under the Central Bank of Nigeria. Some of it is a cargo examination by the Nigerian Custom. Some of it is the documentation. The documentation form that exporters have to fill is very cumbersome.

And I know that the NPA, and Nigerian Custom or other government agencies are working together to deploy the national single window and other platforms that will make it easy and reduce the quantum of documents that you need to fill whether you’re importing or exporting.

The information that the NPA is interested in could be the volume or the weight of the cargo, while another government agency is looking for the type of cargo in order to discharge the time.

So why can’t we have a single document that will have all the information that all the government agencies need at once and I think one of the mandates given to us recently is for us to work together, NPA, Nigerian Custom, the CBN to ensure that we streamline this documentation, reduce red tape and ensure that exports actually get out of the country as quickly as possible. However, that’s why we also created the Export Processing Terminals.

Every export processing terminal is supposed to have the Nigeria Custom, the Standard Organisation of Nigeria there. All the government agencies that  certify any export are supposed to have a presence at those export processing terminals. That means all the red tape will be reduced and this cargo will actually get to the port sealed in a container and ready to go.

This will resolve some of the problems. We have been having regular discussions and meetings with exporters, and they have bought into this idea, and they have seen it as an initiative that will actually reduce red tape. But we need the support of other government agencies for this to work.

The processes are not just NPA there are various and many agencies involved in this and what we require is for other government agencies to also work with us to ensure that this is resolved. So I pledge to you that we will deploy and ensure the Export Processing Terminals we have licensed are working. We have given 10 licenses and our intention is that after six months, anyone that does not meet our requirements, we will delist that terminal and give licence to other Nigerians that are interested.

We’re not going to be issuing extra processing terminals as licenses, to avoid the drama, we really need them to work, we need them to be active. Recently, the Nigerian Customs have actually posted Customs officers to some of these export processing terminals and other government agencies are also deploying their officers to go there.

There will be scanners, Weight-bridge etc. It is like a port but strictly meant for exports. And I think we’ll get to the end of this shortly.

The Tin Can and Apapa Quay aprons are collapsing and they are in a terrible state. What are the plans towards rehabilitating them?

We have done a conditional survey and interim drawings and designs and payment.

And one of the mandates given to us by the Minister of Transportation is to ensure that we conclude all the necessary documentation, the review and what have you. So that he will go to the FEC and get presidential approval for us to begin the immediate reconstruction of Tin Can and Apapa Ports.

 

However, don’t forget that there are terminal operators that are waiting for allocation. So there are multiple options. The first option is for the terminal operators to rehabilitate the quays, and then recoup their money.

However, not all the terminal operators have the same financial muscle to do it. These quays, for instance, under let’s say about six or seven terminals, if you allow the man in the middle to start the construction without the person next to him, being ready to start, you will create a problem with the integrity of the quays so it must be a planned reconstruction.

The other option is for the government to fund it. And of course, the government does not have money, the initial estimate which is going to cost slightly over $400 million to reconstruct Tin Can. So the other option is hybrid, where NPA would borrow the money from a multilateral funding agency.

 

And then using our revenue, we pay for that facility over 10 years. This is being looked at, but the Minister of Transportation has requested that we revisit it with immediate effect  and I can assure you that we are taking that instruction seriously and that will then commence very soon.

Of course, apart from Tin Can and Apapa, also BUA has been given approval in terms of its design that is in Rivers Port for it to start reconstruction of the quays. Rivers Port also and we are taking it port by port and ensuring that the necessary reconstructions are done at these various ports locations. So we expect BUA to start reconstruction latest in November, all things being equal.

Actually, the $1.3 billion I mentioned about Lekki is from the first phase to the last phase.

In line with President Muhammadu Buhari sustainable fight against corruption, what modalities are you putting in place to check sharp practices among agents or clearing agents who might collaborate with some of your staff to deny the government of revenue. What measures are in place to check that?

Like I said, NPA does not handle cargo anymore, it is the terminal operators that are handling cargo. So a clearing agent that wants to clear his cargo actually goes to the terminal operator and does his processes. Yes, there are some fees payable to the Nigerian Ports Authority. They are there online.

Everybody knows the fees, there’s transparency, a clearing agent cannot ask you to pay more than you are supposed to. But over 90 per cent of what you will pay as an importer is related to either customs duty, or payment to the terminal operators, and so on and so forth. It is the terminal operator that pays Nigeria Ports Authority. However, what we keep doing is the regular stakeholder meetings at various ports locations on a quarterly basis.

And then at the stakeholder meetings we expect everyone that is a stakeholder in our industry to come in there and get information and give feedback. Our website is interactive. Our SERVICOM department is doing a very good job. And we’re ready to answer any questions and inquiries as the need arises.

Your revelation of stolen buoys along the eastern waterways is serious, because Nigerians have been wondering why there’s so much concentration on the Tin Can and Apapa Ports and why we don’t diversify in such a way that you can have access to the eastern ports and decongest the Lagos Ports?

And now you are talking of stolen buoys on the navigational waterways? How serious are the operations that are carried out there? Can you put a figure in terms of the losses and what you have done to replace these buoys? The loss of buoys is very, serious. So everybody here probably has a Google map. If you go to a city, you use Google maps to find your way somewhere. The buoys are the markers that are replacing Google Map on the channel.

We have gone to so many fora where shipping companies, for instance, the Greece Shipping Association say that they don’t want to go to Nigeria, especially Warri and Calabar because of the absence of these buoys. You need those buoys for you to know where to meander left.

A vessel can meander one meter to the left and it goes aground in the absence of those buoys. And the theft has been there for so long. What we have done is to reach to the communities and plead that these metals we are seeing cost millions of naira. They are not to be scrapped, those that steal them actually turn them to scraps. And what we’re say ing is please leave them where you find them. When these ports are operational, it brings economic activity to the community that is involved actually.

From our measuring standard, those who are stealing these buoys do not have the interests of the local communities where the ports are located at heart. We do the best we can whenever we procure. The procurement process is quite cumbersome and difficult.

But we always buy in bits one or two extras. And then we replace it. But some of them nature takes them away, or they go adrift. But when you check, you find their location because they have transponders, they have locators on them, you can easily find them.

The ones stolen by the communities are turned to scraps, and I think three or four months ago, we deployed some and in less than a month two were missing already. You know, so we are pleading, we are using this avenue to plead with community leaders, youth associations in those ports, in fact every port community, we are pleading that please the buoys you see, are a critical and integral part of the operations of the ports, the captains will not come to those ports if those buoys are not around.

They are very expensive to purchase and deploy and even the deployment of those buoys takes a lot of work. So to answer your question, we are losing a lot of money, because we find that the cost of doing business in those sports is very high. Because there are captains that have been used to the channel for so long, but very few of them want to come there.

They are taking risks by coming there. So imagine if they’re supposed to be 60 buoys on the channel, and they are only 29 or 30. That means he’s just going to aggregate, it’s quite difficult maneuvering this water, the water is murky, the channel is long, which makes it more difficult.

Concerning what you said about none detection of vessels. You tried to explain that and there’s some instrument that can be turned off?

How does it just happen that many years of the Buhari administration we had losses owing to this AIS? How come it was not taken seriously?

Do you sense any deliberate sabotage of the system?

 

 

Wherever you have such criminal activities in the waterways and the detector is switched off, whether it’s in Nigeria, Cambodia, America, wherever it is, it will remain undetected. But what others have done is to deploy technology that will ensure that it does not happen and that is what we have been trying to do. What I tried to explain is as long as the vessel is getting into our channel and is calling at a location monitor managed by the Nigeria Port Authority, we will know it is coming.

But when it enters into the channel, it goes to steal crude we are not monitoring, what it is loading or offloading. Ours is that it has come into the channel and it is going to so and so location and it actually goes there. Our investigation has shown that they go to those locations and then depart and go where they are not supposed to before they now go offshore.

We are working with the Nigerian Navy, the NNPC and other government agencies to actually fight crude theft and actions taking and there are initiatives that have been deployed in the past. Not too long ago we actually brought reduction in this theft. We’ll keep working with relevant government agencies to ensure that this does not happen.

So when you say that  saythere is sabotage in the system, it is not the system that is sabotaging; it is those outside the system, those who are interested in the crude theft that are actually doing some of these things. What technology is being deployed? I’ve told you that the Vessel Tracking System (VTS) is one of the things we need and the ports Community System helps in documentation. The VTS monitors everything.

We’re also working with NASDRA, the Nigeria Airspace Research Development Agency, getting satellite feeds towards revenue generation.

How much does it cost to procure such technology?

It is not the cost of procurement. For the past 10 years, the Nigerian government and NPA have been trying to procure it. There are very few recognized consultants, we have done three international adverts, we finally decided to go to IMO.

IMO was the one that eventually recommended a consultant who started and then pulled out. And then we now finally have gotten approval to engage a certain consultant. But then we realise that NLNG already has the VTS but along their own channel. It doesn’t cover everywhere, a VTS is supposed to cover all the navigational aids nationwide. And that’s what we are working on how we will ensure that this is deployed.

The Minister of Transportation along with the Port Community System, this is what will help NPA first of all perform our responsibilities. And we will also share it with other government agencies to ensure this does not happen.

And don’t forget that activities in the waterways also monitored by other government agencies and I also mentioned that NIMASA is also deploying the deep blue sea assets to those locations to mitigate against all these unscrupulous activities.

 

Are you saying this will be done before the end of the administration, because it took seven years to accommodate the lack of it?

 

NPA has been trying to procure VTS for over 10 years before this government  came in and I have explained that the problem is the procurement. So, I believe before the end of this administration, Nigeria should have a VTS all things being equal. We have achieved more in terms of deployment of VTS now, than has ever been achieved.

The fact that we have finally gotten a certified consultant that will take responsibility, the consultant needs to go through all the channels, they need to do their studies, they need to deploy anodes and sensors and link it onto our signals stations and so on and so forth. We have found a consultant that is ready to do that. So what we need to do is to expand it and we have the necessary support of the Federal Ministry of Transportation to ensure that this is deployed as quickly as possible.

Do you see Nigeria, dredging in major rivers?  Is the NPA actually partnering with the National Inland Waterways, and other relevant agencies, to achieve this ambitious plan of dredging these major rivers for the connectivity of our major ports, and their efficiency?

Dredging of rivers is the responsibility of Nigerian Inland Waterways. So what we are doing is to have a synergy where we ensure that our dredging activity gets to where they will pick up from to ensure that there is easy evacuation of cargoes. But that line is being worked on.

There are so many tributaries and distributaries, you can’t just go dredging everywhere, there needs to be a proper map location. And they will need to find some of the shortest places. In some instances, rather than following the river meandering around, it is better you just cut through, reduce navigational time and so on and so forth.

But we are working with NIWA and we’ll give them all the support. We have a hydrographic department, we have the dredging unit, they are very well equipped, well experienced and it’s as old as Nigerian Ports Authority actually, and we will give Nigerian inland waterways all the necessary support they need, we have been collaborating with them already.

 

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