By Victor Akhidenor
Ports don’t just thrive. Their productivity is a function of a combination of factors including but not limited to harbour and waterway approaches, port and terminal design, construction, operation and management, and ship traffic attraction. In rating the performance of a port, given that aforesaid factors are in place, the key indices will then look at the sizes of ships that patronize the port and their level of sophistication; the turnaround time of the ships whilst at berths; the volume of cargo handled and the speed of handling; the dwell time of cargo at the port terminals; the safety of cargo, and cargo theft prevention. Each of these KPIs is an enabler of the activities that make a port to thrive.
Since a port is a service sector almost entirely dependent on the demand and supply of world trade, every modern port in this age of globalization and privatization strives to measure up with or beat the competition by having its own captive cargo and retaining its customers for as long as possible. A port authority and its operators are therefore required to understand the reasons and mechanisms of trade, and how their own ports can benefit or lose from changes in world seaborne trade, and the variations in the patterns of maritime and intermodal transportation.
In this context, the strategic siting of the Delta Ports of Warri, Sapele, Burutu and Koko is most revealing. This group of ports provide about the shortest routes for cargo round trips to catchment states of Anambra, Imo, Enugu, Delta, Edo, Kogi, Ondo, and Benue, when compared with other operational ports in Nigeria. At the present time that the government of the day is working assiduously at growing Nigeria’s non-oil exports, the proximity of the Delta Ports to the catchment states can serve as an aid to freight logistics and distribution planning. The east-west road’s arterial connection through primary and secondary lateral roads to the named states can engender quick turn-around time for trucks to and fro the ports.
To increase shipping activities to the Delta Ports calls for no rocket science. All other things being equal, convention has shown that a “safe port” is the necessary if not sufficient condition which ships hold paramount before venturing into any port, regardless of the level of sophistication of the port’s terra firma of infrastructure, superstructure and equipment for handling cargoes. Safe port in charter parties refers to the waterway approaches to a port harbour that is free of obstruction, installed with the requisite navigational aids, and flushed with water sufficient enough to keep vessels afloat at berth. The major waterway approach to the Delta Ports – the Escravos Channel – having become silted for nearly two decades, has inadvertently made every one of the Delta Ports become “unsafe” for large deep-sea ocean-going vessels, leaving the ports patronage to lighter offshore supply vessels, coastal tankers, fishing trawlers and passenger boats that ply the Tropical West Africa (TWA) maritime routes: a case of gross underutilization of otherwise productive national economic assets. This sad turn of events has no doubt decimated the fortunes of the Delta Ports over the years.
It is thence cheering news for maritime industry watchers and stakeholders to learn that life is being breathed back to the Delta Ports via dredging of the Escravos channel and rehabilitation of its breakwater. The company that has been saddled with the responsibility of accomplishing the dredging part is Dredging International Services Nigeria Ltd (DISN), a firm renown globally for its technical expertise as a provider of marine and waterway solutions. DISN for many years has been carrying out similar and much more complex port and harbour projects all over the world .
Once the Escravos Channel is dredged, a ‘safe port’ status for all the Delta Ports can be guaranteed to the extent that the ‘NAABSA Clause’ in charter parties drawn for vessel voyages to the ports will no longer be contentious. NAABSA is abbreviation for “Not always afloat but safely aground” – a clause that is incorporated into the contract for hiring of a ship (charter party) in order to accept calling at ports where extreme tidal variations affect water depths and make it inevitable for the vessel’s keel to rest at the bottom of the river and touching mud without damage to the keel during loading/discharging operation. For a ship owner to take the risk of his vessel plying a port with such feature, he must have reassurance through his port agent, the charterer, the pilots or the port authority that the port and its channel approaches are not just being constantly dredged and maintained but cleared of wrecks and other debilitating obstructions to his ship.
It is clearly a foregone conclusion that once ship traffic of different vessel and cargo types to the Delta Ports increases, shipping activities will skyrocket. Considering that ports are an important node in the global logistics and supply chain. Ports integrate and optimize different functions and processes for the purpose of overall cost reduction and customer satisfaction. In this connection, the Delta Ports with their strategic location will become logistics and distribution centres that optimize the movement of goods and services within the entire transport and logistics chain of their catchment region-states and provide an opportunity to add immense value to the local economies of this regions.