How efficient are Nigeria’s seaports given the congestion on the roads?
The two seaports in Lagos; Apapa and Tin Can Island Ports are currently operating far above installed capacity. This simply means that if they were built to handle 500,000 TEUs for instance, probably they are now handling about 700, 000 TEUs. You will also notice that the city has caught up with the ports so there is no space for expansion. What we need to do is to improve on the activities in the ports, in terms of efficiency. In 2006 when NPA concessioned the terminals, there was a Development Plan between the NPA and the concessionaires and that plan included physical development and deployment of equipment. The concessionaires have met those agreements and everything has evolved but there is need for bigger and more efficient equipment, better Information Technology IT systems.
We have seen an improvement in terms of efficiency, but there is room for more. We have observed system downtime in one or two of the terminals, especially the APM Terminals, which is one of the terminals. Whenever APM Terminal system is down, it causes a lot of backlog in terms of traffic.
What we did was to sit with the terminal operators, told them to improve on their operations; we have Monitoring and Regulatory Department in NPA, which has an index that on a monthly basis we look at the operations of the terminal operators and we grade them based on their operations and we also go ahead at the end of the quarter to sit with them and tell them where they have decreased and where they have improved and we have seen a better synergy between what the terminal operators are doing and the shipping lines, because some of them also have affiliated shipping lines working with them.
First, to improve port operations, we came up with a policy that mandated shipping lines to establish holding bays for their empty containers and we mandated them to ensure that they have a holding bay outside the port premises for empties. This is to ensure that when an importer take away his cargo from the port, he goes to his business premises or warehouse and offload. He should not bring the empty container into the port, he should rather take it into the holding bay.
Secondly, we mandated every vessel ship that comes into Nigeria, when it is sailing out, it must take away at least 80% of the total quantity of containers it brought in either as empty or as export cargo. We were beginning to see that Nigeria was being turned into a dumping ground for empty containers and largely, this has worked because those empty containers have been removed. But we ensure regular monitoring and efficiency has increased.
How did you feel on assumption of duty seeing such gridlock?
First, I reviewed the current traffic management system, the electronic call up system, also called ‘Eto’. I paid a visit to the main truck park itself, located at the Lilly Pond Terminal, Ijora to see what was happening. I visited the ports also. The idea was to have first-hand understanding of what the problem was, we held a meeting with TTP; the company that deployed ‘Eto’ system platform on behalf of the NPA, we analysed what has been happening from February to May. We observed lapses, one of which was non-deployment of the electronic call up IT system that should have been in place in some locations in the satellite truck parks. We also discovered non-deployment of physical infrastructure such as the bollards, the automated gates and we sat with them in several meetings. We gave them ultimatum to deploy the infrastructure or lose the contract. The essence of ‘Eto’ was actually to streamline cargo movement in and out of the ports, reduce human interference, speed up the process of cargo delivery. As long as there is human interference there would be delays, extortion. We are work on human interference such as stealing of Eto tickets.
So, I can tell you that with the deployment of infrastructure under the electronic Call-Up system for trucks, we have been able to eliminate the Apapa gridlock by more than 80 per cent and this is verifiable. In addition to the deployment of the Eto platform, we are currently promoting multi-modal transport systems through the use of barges for the movement of cargo in and out of the ports; this development has tremendously reduced congestion at most terminals, thereby improving ports efficiency.
The little remnants of the gridlock in some areas in Apapa are due to the very poor state of the Tin Can Port-Mile2 corridor, which is under construction and when the road rehabilitation is completed, the little traffic you see now would be completely eliminated. Following the deployment of infrastructure under the e-call up system, traffic on the Apapa-Ijora axis has reduced by over 80 per cent; you can take a trip to that corridor, but as I said earlier, most of the road networks on the Tin Can, Cocoa Nut –Mile 2 axis, are at various stages of reconstructions and so the eto infrastructure has not been deployed in the area.
As part of efforts to deploy the electronic call up system, about 27-29 truck transit parks were developed across Lagos State with the collaboration of relevant stakeholders including the Lagos State Government. Out of these figures, only about eight have fully deployed the Eto infrastructure which include automated gating systems and other IT equipment. Apart from some of the challenges we enumerated earlier, which border on human interference, the e-call up has been able to streamline cargo evacuation and truck movements, thereby bringing a level of sanity to the roads in Apapa.
What about barge operations?
When we approved the deployment of the barges, we soon discovered that many of them did not have communication equipment and we directed them to install such equipment. We also insist that these barges must be sea worthy before they are allowed to sail so as to forestall a situation where they breakdown at the middle of the channels, which would cause disruptions. We also insist that they meet the minimum Standards Operating Procedure SOP.
We are also developing an electronic call-up system for the barges, just like what we have for the trucks on the roads so as to ensure that we streamline their operations. There is a department in the NPA that handles the regulation. In the last few weeks, we have also received proposals on the deployment of larger barges, we are being careful, but we are studying all that, the PPP unit of the NPA is working on it.
How many containers are moved in and out of the ports by barges?
We currently have issued about 59 barge licenses to different companies that applied to be given these licenses and they have various sizes of barges and some of the are either self-propelled while others use tug boats. What we did was to encourage the movement of cargoes whether the import or empty containers from one part of the port to the other or to off dock locations and bonded terminals, we can say approximately about 10-15per cent of the cargo are moved by barges. As we have created minimum safety standards for trucks, we also have for barges.
There are seaports in the eastern part of the country, why can’t we utilise them to reduce pressure on those in Lagos?
There are many other ports outside Lagos. Naturally, we have the Calabar, Warri, Onne and Rivers Ports. Also, let me clear this fact, NPA cannot decide for importers where to take their cargoes and we understand that about 70 per cent of the cargoes coming into Nigeria come through Lagos. There is a high concentration of industries in Lagos or Ogun. It is most likely that any raw material importer for those factories in Lagos or Ogun State will actually bring them through the Lagos. However, what we have done is to offer tariff incentives in those port locations so that it will encourage shipping lines and importers to also bring in their cargoes through those ports and it has started working and we have seen a gradual careful increase in the tonnage.
But these seaports have common issues; Warri Port is about 109kms away from the ocean, that means from the beginning of the channel to the port in Warri is about 109kms, Calabar Port is 101kms, Port Harcourt Port is about 69klms and Lagos is about 9.2kms. Maintaining the channels is also more expensive because siltation is very high and it also means that there are security issues in that part of the country. Each of those ports have other issues like Warri Port has a breakwater that has collapsed probably nine to 10 years ago. Also, in Warri Port, NNPC has seven-meter pipeline buried under, that means you cannot dredge deeper than seven meters. Rivers Port lifespan has expired; the berth was built with sheet piles in the 1940s or 50s.
This is why we are looking at the Lekki Deep Sea Port as the saving grace and we just can’t wait for it to come on board. The first phase of the port will have 16.5 meters so that means any vessels that draw 15meters can come into that port and then the marine businesses that we have been losing to neighbouring countries will come back into Nigeria. The second phase will take a draft up to 20 meters, thus, the channel will be deeper than 20 meters, but there is a plan under which the terminal operators will reconstruct the ports.