Shallow seaports worsen Nigeria’s economic woes – By Sulaimon Salau

Owing to their shallow water challenges, the nation’s seaports are not contributing optimally to the growth of the economy.

The Guardian’s investigations revealed that any vessel that requires about 15 meters’ water depth and above cannot berth at any of the six ports in the country.

The situation is having adverse effects on international trade, as many large ships are diverted to neighbouring countries while others berth on the high sea, requiring feeder vessels to transship their consignments. This attracts additional charges, which further increases the cost of transportation and production in the case of raw materials for industrial goods, which is ultimately transferred to the final consumer.

Apart from the Lagos water channel that has about 14 meters’ draught, other ports in Calabar and Port Harcourt are currently facing the challenge of shallow water which limits their ability to receive big cargo vessels.Today’s ships are worth about 4000-5000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), 1988 evolution of ships, with a depth requirement of about 13.5 meters. These are the vessels that mostly come to Nigeria. But the 2013 vessels (Tripple E) are of 18,000TEU with depth requirement of 15.5 meters. The next generation vessels are targeting 22,000TEU and above.

“Mega ships” reduce transportation costs by half, accommodating more cargoes and saving fuel and manpower.

According to some stakeholders, bigger ships always mean more profit, but they also mean deeper and longer docks as well as bigger container cranes, wider storage space and a more developed logistic infrastructure.

Currently, the Apapa water channel is 14.5 meters, Port Harcourt is seven meters while Calabar ports are six point four meters. This is a far cry from what could freely sail a large ocean liner which is currently being pursued by shipping lines across the world. One of the reasons the Lagos port is usually congested, compared to others in the country, is because it has the deepest draught.

Already, port operators are contending with the high cost of shipping, clearing and multiple charges by a numbers of government agencies. The poor state of the scanners prolongs cargo clearing while also creating a leeway for illegal movement of arms, ammunition and other unwholesome goods into the country. The dilapidated roads to the ports coupled with the high customs tariff and other inefficiencies have impacted negatively on port operations, making the operators to declare 2016 as the “worst year.”

Indeed, recent statistics from the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicate a drop in the number of vessels that berthed in all the ports from 5,369 in 2013 to 4,025 in 2016.

Although efforts are being made to float three new deep seaports in Akwa Ibom, Lekki and Badagry, hopes are deeming daily as these projects have overshot estimated costs and construction plan.

Efforts by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to dredge the waterways in many cases have hit brick walls. For example, a particular company collected about $56 million to dredge the Calabar channel, but nothing was done after many years.

Around the world, demand for “mega ships” has increased in recent years and countries that lacked seaports with sufficient size and logistics to take them in are fast adjusting.

The Group General Manager, EcoMarine International, Balogun Moruf Adedayo, told The Guardian that the current position of the ports, in terms of shallow draught and technological advancement, might jeopardise the national aspiration of becoming a maritime hub for the West African region.

Adedayo said: “Nigeria really needs to look at dredging of its ports very sincerely because the dynamics in the shipping world today are in the direction of bigger tonnages. The global shipping industry is now in an era where we can do 7,000-14, 000 TEU capacity vessels. Nigeria will need to have deeper channels to be able to accommodate these bigger vessels (bigger tonnages) because shipping is about economics of size.”

Balogun decried the shallow water in Calabar port, saying: “Looking at the strategic importance of Calabar port to this country in terms of its proximity to 16 northern states and accessibility to the neighbouring countries of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, it has the potential of also becoming a trans-shipment hub for the land-locked countries such as Chad and Niger. It is only natural that such a port should be provided with the required infrastructure and should be dredged to be able to realise such enormous potential. It will also go a long way to reduce overdependence on the Lagos ports.”

The NPA had last year launched a probe into the $56 million Calabar channel dredging contract to ascertain why so much was spent on the project without achieving the desired draught to attract bigger vessels to the port.

The Federal Government awarded the contract at N3 billion in 1996. It was re-awarded in November 2014 at N20 billion to complete the project, and later re-awarded in 2006 at $56 million. The contract, which was signed by the NPA, the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) and the Calabar Channel Management, was to dredge the port up to 9.8 metres.

On the investigations, the General Manager, Public Affairs of NPA, Chief Michael Ajayi, said the matter was being handled by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). But the anti-graft agency could not give details when contacted by The Guardian.

On the shallow channel, Ajayi said the Lagos carriage could accommodate big vessels but could not go to Calabar due to the shallow water.

On attracting bigger vessels, Ajayi said: “That is why there is an emergence of deep seaports that would require little or no dredging. We have other ones under construction in Akwa Ibom, Lekki and Badagry. These ports will be able to accommodate bigger vessels. By the time the newer bigger vessels are ready globally, our own deep seaports would have been on stream.”The President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Olayiwola Shittu, said: “We have been very poor at maintaining our ports.

We need a draught of nothing less than 16 meters. In some places, we have nine meters or eight meters. Now we are building several other new ports when we have not maintained the existing ones.”

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