Eromosele Abiodun posits that ongoing efforts by the Nigerian Ports Authority to make other ports across the country viable and efficient will end the seemingly intractable traffic gridlock in Apapa and boost the economies of the regions where they are located Seaports in relation to trade are major gateways to the economy of a country. They represent a complex structure in a country’s transportation system providing ship harbour interface services such as pilotage, dredging, provision of berths, maintenance of navigational channels, etc., ship-port interface in terms of loading and unloading cargoes and port-land interface in delivering cargo to and from the hinterland. In general seaports have five principal roles. They include: Cargoes and passengers handling, providing services for ships such as bunkering and repair, shelter for ships in case of heavy sea and storm conditions, bases for industrial development and terminals forming part of a transport chain. Seaports, expert believe, are complex dynamic systems consisting of numerous interacting elements, influenced by random factors. Over the years, seaports across the country have suffered neglect, depriving Nigeria of the economic advantages of having efficient and well-managed ports. Apart from the Lagos ports, there are seaports at Warri, Koko, Onne, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Lekki Deep Seaport and Ibom Deep Seaport at Ibaka, Akwa Ibom State, which is still at the design stage. There are also numerous inland dry ports and fuel depots. The main problem with these ports is that the river channels leading to them are too narrow to accommodate large vessels. The shipping companies find it more convenient to take their vessels to Lagos than to the eastern ports. The situation worsened after the concession of the ports started in 2006. This was sequel to the withdrawal of the 30 per cent incentive granted vessel owners to use the eastern ports when the federal government controlled the ports. Currently, apart from the Onne Port, most of the other ports servicing the Southeast, South-South and the Eastern flank of the North are virtually idle. The channels into these ports need to be dredged, their facilities need to be upgraded and incentives provided to enable them take up more of the nation’s maritime business. Apart from shallow channels, which make it impossible for bigger vessels to access the port, decrepit port infrastructure is another major problem. While the Calabar Port suffers from shallow draught, the Onne Port is contending with insecurity such as pirate attacks and sea-robbery among others. However, this has reduced in recent times following intensified effort by the government to check maritime crime and criminality. Other identified challenges include deplorable berths, dearth of finger mooring jetties to berth Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) crafts, lack of operational vehicles and fire hydrants at quays. Cargo handling equipment and the port quays areas are also inadequate to make trade facilitation efficient. Also, while high siltation at the Calabar Port has impeded safe navigation, the Port Harcourt Port suffered under constant pirate attacks, which made the port unattractive for foreign shipping lines. Because of the afore-mentioned challenges, no fewer than 754 vessels are said to have deserted the eastern ports between 2013 and 2016. Specifically, the number of vessels that berthed at the ports reduced from 2,268 vessels in 2013 to 1,514 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. NPA Takes Action In a bid to attract shippers to eastern ports and boost economic activity in the region, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), has taken steps to address the problems highlighted above. Early this week, the new management of the NPA lead by its Managing Director of NPA, Mohammed Bello-Koko, paid a working visit to Warri port in Delta state. The NPA team visited every part of the port to access the situation on going projects aimed at revitalizing the port. During the visit, Bello-Koko disclosed that the NPA has awarded a contract for remedial dredging of Escravos channel. Bello-Koko said the dredging of the channel will help to expand the channel and enable bigger vessels to visit the port in Delta State. According to Bello-Koko, the dredging, which has started and is about halfway done, will enable port in Delta State to have a better draft, receive bigger vessels and record less incidences of vessels running aground when completed. Bello-Koko said, “We all know that the breakwaters collapsed about 10 years ago, and there has been high siltation resulting in reduction of the draft from 7 meters to 3 meters in some places.” The NPA, he added, has also started the mapping and charting of the Escravos channel starting from the fairway buoy down to Koko Port, which has not been done for over a decade or more. “The essence is to enable us to be able to know the draft along the way and also ensure that the navigational aids are properly placed. This is because there are some decisions that can only be taken after knowing that the channel has been properly mapped and surveyed,” he said. Bello-Koko further said the efforts put together means that the NPA is beginning to pay attention to the ports outside Lagos. He added, “We have a special interest in ensuring that Warri and other ports are more active. This is why we have been holding stakeholders meetings and we are going to Port Harcourt for another one. This enables us to engage with the importers and exporters for them to know that these ports are available for use. We will deploy more marine equipment and ensure that the signals are also working to ensure safe navigation of vessels.” The NPA boss added that the development will bring joy to the people, especially those that are into the business of importation, who have been yearning for the decongestion of the Lagos port and the bringing of business to the Warri port. Provision of Marine services To be able to achieve his objective Bello-Koko said he will ensure that the NPA play its role effectively. “First of all, what is most important is for us to be sure that the NPA is performing its own responsibilities by providing the necessary marine services and equipment. As a result, we will review third party contracts, because it is becoming quite difficult for them to operate. Now, Warri has multiple locations. So it is not just the port itself, you have activities around Oghara you have activities in Koko towards Sapele, there are so many jetties and what have you. “So, we have seen opportunities here that we can harness if we can improve the draft of the channel, but for you to do that, the first thing you need to solve the issue of the breakwaters, the breakwater collapsed about almost 10 years ago, but the studies have been conducted the bathymetric and geotechnical studies have been conducted. We are now at the design stage of the breakwater.” He added that the NPA is also looking at the possibility of constructing a new one of the existing facility is too costly to rehabilitate. “It is either we reconstruct the current one or rebuild a brand new. It is only when you do that, that you stop siltation into the channel and you reduce the incidences of grounding of vessels. Now when you do that, you now look at the other problem, which is the NNPC pipeline. We have been discussing with NNPC, if they can bury the pipe deeper, it means we can now dredge the channel deeper, it means you can bring bigger vessels. “Now for Warri, that location can actually serve as a hub for activities in the South South. And even some of the commercial centers in the Southeast. And there are also other opportunities for development of other maritime logistics along the channel. We know there are issues to do with the draft limitations of the of the key walls, then the distance from fairway bouy to the port itself is about 107 kilometers. So that is a bit of a challenge, “he said. Taking Back NPA Properties As part of the effort to maximize its assets, the NPA boss said the NPA is taking steps to get back its landed properties that has been encroached by host the community. “Yeah, so we observed a lot of encroachment. Even on the path leading to the port, there are a lot of makeshift shops and people have even built houses. And we believe that those lands have commercial value. So we need to take possession. But if you drive away squatters, and you don’t put those lands to use, that means you haven’t taken full possession. We need to sit and think of what commercial value some of the lands are. “So we have developed parts that are near the water and the backside of it The best way to look at the commercial activity there, do we sell them and generate revenue for government, or do we put them to commercial use in terms of construction of houses. We want out of court settlements for some of the cases that have been in court for 10 years. It doesn’t really make sense, we are at a loss and it is time we sit down and start negotiating, “he said. Security and Tariffs Speaking on how the NPA is addressing the security challenge at the port, he said, “We’ve been collaborating with the Nigerian Navy, the Chief of Naval Staff has been really cooperative and now I want to use this opportunity to thank him for that. A committee was set up between the NPA and the Navy and the committee was not just meant to look at security issues but also we have had issues of also possession or ownership of land between us and the Navy, not just in Delta but in virtually all the ports in Nigeria. So, that has been resolved. “We are also discussing with Nigerian Navy in terms of improved patrols along the waterways, especially as it relates to the ports. Nigerian Navy has also been magnanimous enough to agree that some of our signals stations will be located in areas not too far away from the operational basis or even within the operational basis signal stations. Improve communication also improves security actually because we know where vessels are at any given time. Also the IG just approved the setting up of Marine Police, which we never had in Calabar and in Warri ports. Setting up the Marine Police will help us improve security in those areas. The NPA, he added, is also looking at the tariffs given to shipping companies to reflect on local shippers to make it more effective. Olu, Stakeholders Commend NPA Speaking during a courtesy visit by the NPA boss and his management team to seek royal support in reviving the Warri Port, the Olu of Warri Kingdom, Ogiame Atuwatse III, expressed satisfaction on the NPA visit to Warri Port as the first port of call after his confirmation as the managing director. He said the eastern ports need to be opened up after several pushes by different governments in the past, adding that the recent efforts will yield positive results for the benefit of the importing community. While saying that the Niger-Delta people want the port to work, the Olu of Warri said that port generally drives the economy of the cities where they are located. He assured that the NPA can always come to the royal family for support to achieve the goal of opening up Warri Port for business. Meanwhile, stakeholders in the maritime industry have pured encomium on the NPA for the authority’s effort at making other ports across the country viable. For instance, former President of ANLCA Mr. Olayiwola Shittu hailed the NPA for repositioning the port for greater efficiency. Another stakeholder, Mr. Felix Abraham, said the deployment of the equipment will assist the port in taking its rightful position as hub for the East and Central Africa sub-regions in oil and gas as it has the advantage of accessibility and proximity to the Eastern commercial centres like Onitsha, Nnewi and Aba, among others.