MD, NPA, Omar Suleiman
With 3,689 vessels and a cargo throughput of 46,150,518 metric tonnes in 2006, shipping and cargo traffic has doubled over last five years. This year, NPA is banking on over 6,000 vessels at the ports as the cargo traffic boom continues, reports Francis Ugwoke
For the Nigerian Ports Authority, concessionaires and shipping companies, these are certainly the best of times, especially when juxtaposed against the year-on-year rise in shipping and cargo traffic over the past few years in the ports sector.
The numbers are so impressive that they have beaten industry expectations, including NPA and the port concessionaires. In fact, officials of NPA and concessionaires have described the past few years of the reform programme as a period of boom at the ports. This is despite the economic downturn that impacted most sectors of the national and global economy in the past few years.
To industry stakeholders, the impressive results coming out of the maritime sector have confirmed predictions that the port reform exercise introduced about five years ago would lead to a corresponding increase in shipping and cargo traffic.
Shipping and Cargo Traffic
In its latest shipping and cargo report, the daily shipping position published by the NPA showed that for every month, over 600 ships berthed at the nation’s ports. Buttressing this point, officials of NPA confirmed that this was an increase over the number of ships that berthed at the ports before the reform exercise. If this figure is broken down, this means the ports recorded at least 200 ships every week and about 30 ships on a daily basis. Industry stakeholders further explained that the increase in volume has translated to surplus economic gains for the NPA, concessionaires, shipping companies, and the national economy, considering the multiplier effect.
According to recent data made available by NPA, since the ports concession in 2006, ship and cargo traffic have recorded a progressive rise year-on-year. In 2006 - the first year of the concession - 3,689 vessels berthed at the ports with a cargo throughput of 46,150,518 metric tonnes (MT). This rose in 2007 to 4,050 vessels and a cargo throughput of 54,646,048MT.
Similarly, 4,477 vessels and a cargo throughput of 65,192,919MT was recorded in 2008, while in 2009, the figures were put 4,620 for vessels and 66,908,322MT for cargo throughput. In 2010, 4,962 vessels and a cargo throughput of 74,910,284MT was recorded, while last year, the figures rose to 5,327 and 82,763,384MT for shipping and cargo traffic respectively.
In summary, six years after the reforms, 27,125 vessels and a cargo throughput of 390,566,475MT were recorded by NPA, translating to a 10 to 15 per cent rise in cargo and vessel traffic each year. Added to the impressive rise in shipping and cargo traffic, NPA officials expect that the traffic for this year would also record a progressive rise from the figures for last year.
Additional data on the type of goods being handled at the nation’s ports further showed that petroleum products topped the list. According to statistics obtained from NPA, liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments in 2011 stood at 22,277,883MT, a growth of 15 per cent over the 2010 figure of 19,369,047MT.
The report also showed that general cargo shipment in 2010 increased from 9,047,030MT to 13,284,965MT in 2011, or a 46.8 per cent increase. Similarly, dry bulk cargo rose from 11,858,121MT in 2010 to 12,877,468MT in 2011, showing an 8.5 per cent increase.
Also, refined petroleum in 2011 rose 21,527,299MT by 19.3 per cent over the 2010 figure of 18,047,842MT, while laden container throughput stood at 817,246 TEUs, in what amounted to a 22.2 per cent increase over the 2010 figure of 668,697 TEUs.
The report also showed that empty containers last year were put at 596,030 TEUs, a 29.7 per cent increase over the 2010 figure of 459,474 TEUs; whereas, vehicle traffic in 2011 was put 231,423 units, showing a 23.3 per cent increase over the 2010 figure of 187,635 units.
Reform Pays Off
Giving reasons for the rise in shipping and cargo traffic, managing director of NPA, Mr. Omar Suleiman credited the reform measures at the ports for the impressive performance in the maritime sector.
According to him, apart from ports’ infrastructure rehabilitation, there has been a tremendous improvement in the way business is done at the ports than was the case prior to their concession.
He noted that while container and general cargo vessels used to wait for two to four weeks before discharging their consignments and leaving, it now takes a matter of days. He said this explained the increase in shipping and consignments coming into the country as shown in the daily shipping position released by the authority.
He also pointed out that the waiting time for ships has improved from about 15 days to three to four days. According to him, the turn-around time at the Container Terminal was about two days for containers and about five-six days for general cargo, which before the concessions, took about a month. Omar, who said every effort was being made to achieve efficiency in running the ports, added that when vessels berth at the ports and discharge with ease, it encourages them to make return trips to the ports. It was also gathered that while it took about 50 days before the reforms to conclude cargo handling, it takes now about 25 days.
Stakeholders Task Concessionaires
Interestingly, importers and freight forwarders who were once critical of the concessions, have grudgingly acknowledged that there has been considerable improvement in terms of efficiency at the ports. While noting that infrastructure rehabilitation that has led to improvement in port operations, they however, added that the concessionaires still have to work hard on improving the quality of their cargo equipment.
A top member of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, who pleaded anonymity, said that concessionaires still have to invest in cargo handling equipment in order to cope with the rise in traffic at the ports. He noted that most times, many containers are dropped on the quay side by ship owners in their desperation to depart the ports as soon as possible, adding that it takes time before some of these containers are transferred to the terminals. He pointed to another problem, which entails the time it takes before some concessionaires position containers for examination.
The agent further called on the NPA to do something in respect of the high charges being imposed on importers by the concessionaires. He was of the view that NPA’s management should scrutinise the charges imposed on importers by concessionaires.
In 2012, NPA officials are optimistic that the ship and cargo traffic will continue to grow. With 82,763,384MT of cargo throughput recorded in 2011 from 5,327 vessels that called at the ports, NPA is optimistic that under the aggressive rehabilitation programme and other policy measures being put in place to make the ports more efficient, there will be at least a 25 per cent increase over the figures recorded last year.
Indeed, expectations are high that this year, the shipping traffic will peak at between 6,000 and 6,500 vessels. General Manager, Public Affairs, NPA, Chief Michael Ajayi, told THISDAY, “The management of the authority is determined to create a port environment that will be efficient and conducive to doing business as obtains in other developed ports. We are doing this to draw more attention to Nigerian ports and attract bigger ocean liners that can come here with more than 5,000 containers in a single voyage.”