With the launch of two new Mobile Harbour Cranes worth $10 million and other investments, the West Africa Container Terminal, Onne Port, River State has become the new hub of economic activities in Nigeria and the gateway to major markets, writes Eromosele Abiodun
Following the suffering and cost incurred by importers, exporters and other stakeholders in the maritime sector as a result of the unending Lagos ports access roads gridlock, there have been calls for other ports in the country, especially the eastern ports to be activated to solve the congestion in Lagos.
But some players in the industry had argued that the investment required to get the eastern ports running is not readily available hence the continued suffering at the Lagos ports with delays and million lost to demurrages and other rates.
However, it has been a different story in the last one year at Onne Port in Rivers State as the West Africa Container Terminal (WACT), one of the first green field container terminal to be built in Nigeria under public private partnership, has since set the ball rolling. WACT is located in Onne port (some 30km from Port-Harcourt) in Rivers State.
Described by importers as the best kept secret, the company has been successfully connecting East, North, West Central Nigeria and Rivers State to the world since its establishment a few years ago. This has been possible through top-quality services, cordial business relations with customers, regular interaction with stakeholders, human resource development, modern handling equipment and superior e-commerce capabilities.
As a result of this, vessel traffic has since hit the millions as traders and importers in the east no longer bring their goods through Lagos ports but rather go to the Onne port for easier access to their target market.
This, some importers, told THISDAY has reduced their cost of doing business drastically, stressing that the facilities at the Onne port makes it possible for them to clear goods in few days unlike what obtains in Lagos where they spend weeks in traffic and pay all manners of fines and expense before they get their goods to its destination.
Over the last three years, the WACT terminal has seen significant increase in volumes resulting in its investment in various containers handling equipment such as five reach stackers, two empty handlers and 14 terminal trucks.
WACT, stakeholders said, has positively impacted trade and economic activity in Nigeria by increasing the competitiveness of the port. This makes the terminal attractive for shipping lines coming from all parts of the globe. THISDAY checks showed that vessels now sail directly from Asia (particularly China), America and Europe to Onne including vessels as large as 4000TEUs capacity. This has had a direct moderating impact on the cost of goods as compared to the position in the past.
The company achieved this as a result of the massive investment made in the areas of yard capacity, introduction of sophisticated cargo-handling equipments and electronic solution for invoicing and payments, thus reducing vessel- waiting time, dwell times and above all reducing the number of days for containers to arrive Nigerian markets from the origin of shipment.
WACT, which began commercial operations in 2007, and has proven to be one of the most customer-friendly ports in Nigeria and the most efficient gateway to most markets outside the greater Lagos area. The terminal has a capacity of 314,000 TEUs and 250 reefer plugs with a depth of 12 meters. The terminal is a one-stop shop business environment that houses shipping lines and government agencies within the terminal to reduce travel time for customers and increase the ease of doing business in WACT.
WACT last week launched two new Mobile Harbour Cranes (MHCs) worth $10million (N3.6 billion) for discharge of cargoes at the terminal.
The Mobile Harbour Cranes (MHCs), which is coming on the heels of 10 new specialised terminal trucks and two new reach stackers were expected to increase the turnaround time of vessels at the terminal.
The two new container cargoes handling facilities would bring WACT at par with its peers in Apapa, and Tin Can Island Ports, in terms of equipment and operational efficiency.
Speaking on the MHCs, the Managing Director, WACT, Aamir Mirza said the massive investment at the terminal has attracted 700 direct and 2000 indirect employment in the country.
He said the company had recorded tremendous growth of 17 per cent in 2017, 21 per cent growth in 2018 and 20 per cent growth attained so far this year.
Mirza described the $10 million investment as a key enabler to customers’ satisfaction adding, “Our vision is to make WACT the best performing container terminal in West Africa. We believe this vision can be realised early enough if the government can support us to reduce the challenges of security by ensuring the safety of vessels on our waters, and improve road connectivity, among others.
“The WACT is determined to becoming the new hub of economic activities in Nigeria, being the gateway to major markets in Onitsha, Kano, Abuja, Nnewi, Enugu, Aba, Ogidi and Port Harcourt which will in turn boost the nation’s economy. Hence, our resolve to keep investing and increasing the competitiveness of the WACT so that larger ships can call the port directly and importers do not have to travel hundreds of thousands of miles to collect their goods when they can easily do that in Onne.”
Mirza said the cranes would enable volume growth resulting in increased productivity; reduced port stay and provide bunker savings; improve reliability in cargo delivery times; reduce the impact of crane breakdown/idle time on overall terminal operations; and increase customers satisfaction and speedy delivery.
Also speaking, the Executive Secretary of Nigeria Shippers’ Council (NSC), Hassan Bello, said the new cranes would aid efficiency and improve vessels turnaround time at the terminal. He reiterated the federal government’s commitment to encourage more importers to patronise Onne Port, adding that government is determined to see shipping make significant contributions to the economy.
He said: “Our terminals need to grow and show efficiency. I am happy with the competition because this is how to compete. We need options, choice for shippers where they will discharge their cargoes. The commissioning of these Mobiles Harbour Cranes is no doubt significant because it will improve efficiency. We are happy with the 30 per cent increase in volumes of cargoes and in the long run, more Nigerians would be employed and it will make the terminal operation contribute to the economy.
“The more efficiency we have, the more cargoes we will get because Nigeria is a natural harbour due to the market that is available and I am happy today that this terminal is becoming one of the most efficient we have in West Africa and this is gladdening our hearts, and the main reasons of concessioning the port to private sector will be realised by this terminal and we will use this terminal to benchmark the performance of other terminals.”
Free Zone Objectives
The Managing Director, Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority (OGFZA), Umana Okon Umana, lauded WACT for making the nation meet the objectives of establishing the free zone.
He promised to run the free zone in a professional manner and assured of provision of dedicated power to the zone for efficient service delivery.
He said: “For us, the fact that WACT is expanding their operation is a show of confidence they have in the economy and confidence they have in Nigeria and the MD said they have sent Nigerians out for training because this are very specialised equipment and as we know; the objectives of free zones is to attract foreign direct investments that will support job creation, support transfer of skills and technology and what government loses by tax revenues, government takes back in employment, skills and transfer of skills.”
On her part, the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala-Usman lauded the company for acquiring the new cranes, even as she urged shippers to patronise Onne Port.
Bala-Usman, who was represented by the Onne Port Manager, Al-Hassan Ismaila, said the government was looking into the security of vessels on the nation’s high sea.
“The Onne Port is a nexus to connecting the North-East, North-central, South-south and South-east, so cargoes for this section of the country are expected to be discharged through this port. We are calling on shippers to patronize Onne Port because of the friendly environment, and the synergy between the agencies of government operating at the port,” she added.