Against the backdrop of recent call for the federal government to open up the Eastern ports for vessels traffic, findings have shown that shallow draft, insecurity and high charges are some of the major reasons why the ports have failed to attract vessels for so many years.
The eastern ports which include Calabar Port, Delta Port, Rivers Port and Onne Port have witnessed low patronage of vessels in recent years. LEADERSHIP recall that some importers over the weekend appealed to the federal government to open up the seaports in the eastern flank of the country to decongest ports in Lagos.
The importers argued that the designation of the Calabar, Port Harcourt and Warri ports for cargo transactions would bring the perennial traffic at the Apapa Ports to an end. The traders said in Lagos that they were experiencing hardships in getting their goods out of the Apapa ports.
But, LEADERSHIP investigation over the weekend showed that while high siltation is causing shallow draft at the Calabar port and making it inaccessible to vessels, the Port Harcourt port is suffering under constant pirate attacks and sea-robbery that has made the port unpopular for foreign shipowners.
For instance, the eastern ports have a much lower channel draught with the Port Harcourt port having seven meters channel draught, the Calabar ports having 6.4 metres as against the Lagos Ports – Apapa and Tin Can ports which are 13 metres deep.
With a draught of 6.4 metres, the channel can only attract flat bottom vessels which doesn’t ply Nigerian ports and much smaller vessels with less than 100 ( twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEUs).
Also, shipping experts have argued that for the eastern ports to attract cargoes and to be an international standard maritime destination, it must attract huge vessels like the Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC) and the Ultra Large Crude Carriers (ULCC).
They said that can only be achieved by a deeper channel of at least 13 meters because smaller vessel won’t reduce port cost. Bigger vessels calling at the seaports would also lead to reduced handling costs and shipping cost due to lower operating costs for companies and the operators are expected to make increased revenues from handling and storage charges.
According to the experts, with the shallow draught, there’s a limit to the size of vessels the Calabar port can accommodate and shipping, especially container shipping, is all about economies of scale. The larger vessels that call, the lower the cost of importing and exporting, and the lower the freight cost.
While the Calabar port is said to be suffering from shallow draught, the Onne port is combating insecurity such as pirate attacks and sea-robbery. ‘‘Due to pirate attacks, vessels entering Nigeria’s Onne port in Port Harcourt, Rivers state are delayed for an average of six hours per night which amount to $45,000 (N16.2milion).
‘‘The delay, estimated at $7,500 per hour, is said to be fueled by constant pirate attacks on the axis. Consequently, the importers of the consignments on board the vessel will have to pay for the delay,’’ said one of the experts who pleaded anonymity.
The eastern ports including the Onne port have been operating on the International Ships Ports Security (ISPS) Code 2 due to insecurity in the region. However, vessels that berth and discharge find it difficult to sail out at night for fear of pirate attacks.
The Gulf of Guinea accounts for 29 incidents in 2018 Q1, more than forty percent of the global total. For instance, on 22nd of March, a merchant vessel reported that it came under attack from two speedboats 53 nautical mile (nm) southwest of Bonny at 23:48hours local time. Also, on the 7th of April, a bulk carrier was chased down and boarded by pirates off Brass, Nigeria.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP recently, acting director-general of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), Engr. Chidi Izuwah expressed worry over the inability of vessels to sail out at night at Onne Port.
The ICRC boss regretted that vessels cannot sail out of the port as it is done in Lagos port. “No night sailing at Onne Port and this is worrisome unlike what happens at Lagos Port where vessels can sail out at any time of the day,” he said.
An official in one of the container terminals at Onne Port, West Africa Container Terminal (WACT) exclusively disclosed to LEADERSHIP that vessels failed to sail out of the port over fear of pirate attacks.
He said shipping companies are left with an option of sailing out at night and get attacked or wait till the following morning to avoid attack. The source who craved anonymity also said that the security situation in Onne Port has been a source of concern to all stakeholders especially shipping companies.
However, shipping expert, Dr. Kofi Mbia warned that the surge in pirate activities could have a wrong impact on commercial trading in the shipping industry as it would affect the climate of confidence in trade and influence the rise in insurance premiums.
Speaking on the shallow channel, president, National Council of Managing Directors of Licenced Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, said Nigeria has lost its maritime leadership position to other countries not only because of security lapses but because of shallow draft.
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