January 7, 2021
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The Nigerian maritime sector has been plagued by issues bordering on insecurity on its waterways, the perennial Apapa port traffic gridlock, port congestion issues, single mode of cargo evacuation and disregard for the nation’s cabotage regime by foreign shipping firms. As 2021 unfolds, expectations are high among stakeholders in the maritime sector that some innovations that will address these issues should get government attention and become operational. A cursory look at some issues revealed why they have simply refused to go away, and why these innovations could be a game-changer to a myriad of problems confronting Nigeria’s maritime sector.

E-commerce system

Nigeria’s busiest ports of Apapa and Tin-Can have been bedeviled by a traffic gridlock that has defied all solutions thrown at it down the years. The introduction of a Presidential Task Team on restoration of law and order in Apapa in May of 2019 was expected to solve the menace but the task force was disbanded late last year with the gridlock worse than what it used to be.

With the expected introduction of an e-call up system by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), port users are expected to heave a sigh of relief over the Apapa gridlock in 2021, Hadiza Bala Usman, Managing Director of the NPA had assured.

Speaking during an inspection of the Tin-Can ports access roads, Usman explained that an e-commerce system to serve as a communication system for the port was being designed and would be ready in 2021. She added that the communication system would reduce traffic on the road.

“We are planning to deploy an e-commerce system in 2021 which will provide electronic communication at designated truck parks, to ease truck parking on the road. Henceforth, the e-commerce system will come like an app where you download it on your phone and communicate easily when your truck has arrived. You can use it to know when a truck has been assigned to you.

“This will be in partnership with the Lagos State Government. The Lagos State Government is providing a large truck park in Orile where we will feed them information on trucks accessing the port. The e-commerce will also reduce human intervention at the ports,” the NPA MD stated.

Deep blue project

With insecurity on Nigeria’s waterways threatening to go out of control in recent years, the nation developed an Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure, otherwise called the Deep Blue Project to tackle maritime crimes within its territorial waters and the Gulf of Guinea (GoG).

As at last check by the Nigerian Tribune, the Deep Blue Project has taken into its custody over 80 percent of the assets required for the takeoff of the total spectrum maritime security architecture. Some of the assets received include but not limited to 10 interceptor boats, two special mission vessels, six armoured aircrafts; while a first special mission aircraft and the first unmanned aerial vehicle is being expected in the country anytime soon.

With maritime crimes ravaging the GoG all through 2020 and the previous years, the commencement of the Deep Blue Project in 2021 is expected to provide the platforms that will reduce the level of piracy in the region to a considerable level.

Speaking early last year when the two special mission vessels, DB Abuja and DB Lagos arrived the country, former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dakuku Peterside said pirates and other criminals on the country’s maritime domain up to the Gulf of Guinea would soon meet their waterloo, with the arrival and installation of the critical assets under the Deep Blue Project.

Peterside, disclosed that aside from these two special mission vessels, 10 Fast Interceptor Boats have also arrived in the country and seven more are expected later in the year.

“Today marks a new dawn for a more secure and stable maritime environment in Nigeria. This milestone in asset delivery inches us closer to full operational take-off of the Deep Blue Project, hence it marks a huge victory for the Nigerian maritime sector in the fight against maritime insecurity,” he said.

Single window/scanners deployment

Congestion issues have been a major undoing of Nigeria’s ports of Apapa and Tin-Can. Even with the diversion of vessels to other ports by the NPA to ease congestion woes plaguing the ports in Lagos, congestion crisis has still not abated with very high yard density impacting berthing of vessels, and leading to long vessel queues along the nation’s waters.

Two major factors that have negated efforts to rid the ports of congestion is the 100 per cent examination of cargoes by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the deplorable access roads leading to the ports.

With the expected deployment of a National Single Window and scanners at the nation’s port later this year, port users will not have any business to come to the ports and queue for long manual examination processes which end up slowing the cargo clearance chain.

Implementation of a National Single Window as a single-entry point has the potential to harmonise and standardise the information exchange between commercial and administrative stakeholders and to provide fast, reliable, paperless and efficient port transactions.

Rail evacuation of cargoes

Nigerian ports currently rely heavily on road haulage to evacuate cargoes, a situation that has led to a rapid deterioration of the nation’s major roads, and also led to traffic snarl along the ports access roads.

With demolition of port structures by the contractor handling the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail project currently ongoing, expectations are high that a switch to rail evacuation of cargoes towards the middle of 2021 will end the perennial traffic gridlock that has rocked Nigerian ports in recent years.

Speaking during an inspection of the rail project recently, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi stated that completion of the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail line would end the Apapa gridlock.

“As you can see that the narrow gauge is existing, but it is not efficient. The moment we fix the standard gauge to the ports, those goods will be transferred to the rail and the traffic logjam will disappear on the ports access roads.

“We need to push the contractor to work faster. The pressure is more economic than political because once the project gets to the seaports, most of these import cargoes will be on the rail, thereby reducing pressure on our roads and reducing the need for trucks at the ports,” Amaechi said.

Cabotage/waiver regime

Pending the enforcement of the revised cabotage Act implementation guidelines, foreign vessel owners are currently flouting Nigeria’s cabotage regime, the Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN) recently lamented. In a letter dated September 4, 2020 and addressed to the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Bashir Jamoh, the SOAN lamented that foreign vessels account for over 80 per cent of the cabotage trade in Nigeria’s downstream sector.

According to the letter, which was signed by the SOAN President, MKgeorge Onyung, “Foreign vessels currently enjoy Nigerian government incentives/waivers which are denied to indigenous operators.

“While indigenous ship-owners pay tariff in full and in US Dollars, foreign ships enjoy reduced tariff and pay in Naira.

“Foreign vessels also receive payment for freight in full and always prepaid, remitted to offshore bank accounts of these foreign vessel owners; while payment for freight for Nigerian flagged vessels is always postpaid and comes in after six months.

“Again, no Nigerian seafarer is employed by these foreign shipping lines benefiting from the nation’s downstream sector at the detriment of indigenous operators. Despite NIMASA spending huge public funds to provide sea time training for Nigerian cadets abroad, none of the 321 foreign vessels involved in DSDP imports or coastal shuttle fleets in Nigeria has accepted any of these Nigerians onboard for manning or seatime training.

“This year, expectations are high that NIMASA would work closely with the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) for joint categorisation of vessels operating under the Cabotage Act in-order to ensure full implementation of its provisions.

“Also, waivers granted to foreign vessel owners operating within Nigeria’s territorial waters should be suspended since indigenous capacity exists. NIMASA should issue a Marine Notice with a threat of sanctions to foreign shipping companies who collude with foreign ship owners to reject Nigerian vessels from STS operation for petroleum products lighter-age offshore Lagos.

“Where local capacity does not exist, Bare Boat or Time Charter party should be encouraged with foreign vessel owners who should pay a more substantial fee to participate in cabotage trade,” the SOAN President stated in the letter.

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