Eastern Ports as New Bride

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Eromosele Abiodun writes that the berthing of the biggest gearless Maerskline vessel at Federal Ocean Terminal, Onne in Rivers State, shows that with the right policies, things can turn out differently for sectors that had hitherto remained moribund

Seven days ago, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Onne Port complex successfully berthed one of the biggest gearless Maerskline vessel at Federal Ocean Terminal (FOT), Onne in Rivers State, Nigeria.

The Maerskline Stardelhorn vessel with Length overall of 300 metres, width of 48 metres is the biggest ever Container Vessel to arrive at any Nigerian ports.

The vessel, which has a capacity of 9,971 (TEUs), is a flagship from Singapore.
Speaking, while receiving the vessel, the Managing Director NPA, Hadiza Bala- Usman, said the NPA was determined to ensure that eastern ports remain attractive to shippers.

Represented by the Assistant General Manager Harbours, Captain Uduiguomen Eboreime, Bala- Usman said she was excited about the safe arrival of the ‘Maersk Stadelhorn Vessel’ at Onne Port.

Continuing the MD said that NPA was equal to the task, noting that the successful berthing is as a result of five day preparation for the arrival of this vessel from Cotonou, Benin Republic.

Giving details of the vessel, Maesrkline Port Captain Kikelomo Abiola Cudjoe, said the length of the vessel is 300 metres (length overall) and the Width is 48 metres and a total draught of 11.2 metres, while the vessel capacity stood at 9,971(TEUs).

The Port Manager, Alhasssan Ismaila Abubakar said the arrival of the vessel is a milestone attained by NPA. He expressed appreciation to Bala-Usman for all the support and assistance given to Onne port Complex in making the arrival of the vessel possible.

“I give kudos to NPA MD. She made this landmark/achievement today possible. This is the first time such a gigantic Container vessel is calling at any Nigerian ports,” the Port Manager stated.

The Port Manager added that the arrival of the vessel is a trial, observing that the port is well equipped with all facilities and equipment to receive the vessel.

He informed that the vessel was brought in from Fairway Bouy, Bonny by NPA’s three pilots who are well trained on pilotage of such vessel.

“We deployed three TUG Boats with three pilots from Onne Port Complex, and for us, the successful arrival of this vessel showcase the expertise of NPA’s ports operations. An Assistant Harbour Master Onne Port, Captain Marvin Omovbude, who led other pilots – Ezra Yashiyi Yakubu and Abdulahi Sarki piloted the vessel to Onne Port Complex.
“The Vessel arrived safely without any Security Challenges of any type, indicating that Security status of Onne Channel has improved tremendously and the channel depth has also been improved and maintained to receive such large modern vessels,”the port manager stated.

Clever policy direction
The latest achievement did not happen by accident, it happened as a result of cleaver policy direction by the NPA. With the Apapa ports clearly congested and traffic gridlock forcing transporters to stay on the road for days, the MD of the Nigerian NPA came up with an idea to attract vessels to eastern ports. As part of efforts to increase patronage at the eastern ports, and decongest Apapa port, the NPA approved a 10 per cent discount on harbour dues in all concession terminals early 2018. The ports that were affected by this initiative are those in Cross River, Rivers and Delta States.

“The authority, however, wishes to clarify that this discount will only apply to harbour dues payable by the following types of vessels/cargoes: Container vessels with at least 250 TEUs, (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) general Cargo vessels with at least 16,000 MT, combo vessels with at least 16,000 metric tonnes and RORO vessels with at least 250 units of vehicles. These discounts shall not apply to: vessels coming INBALLAST, vessels calling at private jetties and vessels calling carrying liquid bulk. The application of these discounts will take immediately effect.”

The NPA had, as part of the effort to attract vessels to the eastern ports, commenced the dredging of Warri port at the cost of $44.861million (N16.150 billion). The dredging has since been completed and vessels have started calling at the port.

Aware of the perennial gridlock in Apapa as a result of the activity at the Lagos port, the NPA had late 2018 announced that it was working with professionals in the maritime sector to make the eastern ports attractive for business. As part of the effort, the NPA deployed equipment worth over $30 million in Onne Port, Rivers State.

The measure, according to the NPA, was to boost efficiency, security and make the port attractive for business.
Onne Port Complex as one of the key ports under the NPA also got several equipment to boost activity at the port. It was also gathered that six pilot cutters, tug boats and 17-meter offshore patrol boats, have been deployed in the port to make the port attractive and stem the cycle of criminalities within and around the port. The effort started yielding results when in December 2019, a containership measuring 265 metres in length called at the Onne Port Complex, Rivers State.

The ship, named JPO Volans, was the first gearless vessel and the largest containership ever to visit a seaport outside the Lagos area.

Revival of Calabar Port
On the long abandoned Calabar Ports, the MD of NPA in 2017, approached shipping companies to see the possibility of deploying flat bottom vessels built to navigate shallow draughts like that of the Calabar Ports. A month after, two vessels namely: MV Desert Ranger and MV Desert Harrier laden with wheat made maiden calls to Calabar Port. Again, in 2019, three container ships called at the Calabar Ports, the first time in 11 years. MV Boreas made a maiden voyage (in September 2019), MV Zea Walawe called at the Calabar Ports (in November 2019) and MV MCP Adamax also called at the Ports (in November 2019). Rivers Ports were not left out as for the first time ever, an NNLG vessel, with length overall of 160m and gross tonnage of 18311, NRT 5493 DW 233333 laden with BRUTANE berthed at any of the Eastern Ports. Until October 30, 2019 when the vessel, NAVIGATOR CAPRICON berthed at Stockgap Terminal, the product was only shipped to Lagos.

In all, nine new vessels called at the Rivers Ports. Some of the vessels which called at Port Harcourt for the first thereby increasing throughput and revenue include: MV Zafer, which came in on September 8, 2019, MV Northern Dance, which came in on May 22, 2019 and MV Kota Bakti, which came in on February 18, 2019. Onne Ports received MSC GRACE at berth on August 1, 2019. It was the first time the port would receive a container vessel in 12 years. The vessel made a total of five voyages before it was substituted with MSC MARIA, which made a total of Nine Voyages in 2019. The Port also received JPO VOLANS, the first gearless and largest container vessel (LOA of 265.07 metres) to call any Eastern Port on December 8, 2019.

Bala-Usman Reacts
Speaking exclusively to THISDAY, Bala-Usman said it was gratifying that the various efforts her management have been making to encourage traffic at and patronage of the eastern ports are beginning to manifest.

“Alhough we are really excited at the successful berthing of gearless Maerskline Stardelhorn, which is the biggest container vessel to ever call at any of our ports, I should remind you that this is not the first of such milestones at Onne and the entire eastern ports lately.
“You will recall that Onne Ports received MSC GRACE, its first container vessel in 12 years in August last year. The Port also received JPO VOLANS,the first gearless and largest container vessel (LOA of 265.07 metres) to call any Eastern Port on December 8, 2019.

“In April 2020, the Rivers Ports in Port Harcourt received its first Roll on/Roll off (RoRo) while the Calabar Ports has received flat bottom vessels for the first time in years since 2017. So, we are happy that things are working. We determined to ensure that all our ports operate at maximum capacity even as we move towards the establishment of the more globally acceptable Deep-Sea Ports, “she said.

On what specific steps she took to make the laudable achievement possible, she said: “Let me start by reiterating my often-stated point that the ports consignees have the right of choice for the destination of their cargoes. This choice is usually determined by the location of final use, which is one of the reasons why Lagos could be more appealing.

“Having said that, however, we tried to look at the most common disincentives for shipping companies to patronise the eastern ports. Top of this is the issue of security and the additional cost of war insurance that is mandatory for them to take if they plan to call at eastern ports. This is because of the risk of attacks. There is also the issue of the lack of adequate equipment, shallow draught and access roads to some of the ports.

“So, the first thing we did was to start a quarterly stakeholders meeting where we could feel the pulse of operators and come up with an assessment of the needs of the ports. These meetings also gave us the opportunity to meet with traditional and communities’ leaders to discuss the importance of working together to secure vessels and their personnel. We were able to convey the message that the more we make these ports insecure the more shipping companies will stay away.”

The NPA, she added, tried to make everyone understand that peace and security in these areas would ultimately increase traffic at the points.

“I think this has built a lot of confidence in stakeholders. The constant engagement with stakeholders helped achieve industrial harmony and peaceful co-existence,

Most importantly, we are working with the Nigerian Navy, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, (NIMASA) and the Port Police Command to combat crimes on the nation’s waterways.

“We have also ensured the deployment of equipment and personnel to the eastern ports. The ports now have the compliment of well-trained pilots and equipment and machinery like Tugboats and Pilot cutters and everything that is needed to berth such model vessels. To improve operational efficiency. In addition to this, we have continued to engage our terminal operators on the need to improve their capacity to handle cargo. And I must commend terminal operators for the increasing investments we now see. An evidence of this is the reason the West African Container Terminal (WACT) is able to receive this vessel, “she said.

Improvement of Infrastructure
She added that the NPA knew that improvement of infrastructure at the eastern ports was necessary to attract vessels, hence the massive investment in dredging.
“You will recall that the federal Government approved the contract for remedial works and dredging of the Escravos Channel in Warri in 2018. And for a place like Calabar Ports, where we are reviewing the economic wisdom of dredging, we had conversations with shipping companies, which saw the deployment of flat bottom vessels, which do not need as much depths as Onne and Rivers Ports.

“We also identified the state of some roads that lead into our ports. We made a list of such roads across the country and sat down with them at the Federal Ministry of Works on the need to prioritise these roads. Some of these roads, including the Ikom Bridge, which is a major thoroughfare from the Calabar Port is now under construction, Bala-Usman said.
On the future possibilities in the eastern port, she begged for the cooperation of the residents of the region.

“I thank them for the cooperation that we have continued to receive from them. I also want to plead that we continue to keep the peace, so that business can come to our communities and the economy can improve.
“On our part, we are committed to doing everything to make all our ports functional. We will continue to improve the quality and quantity of our infrastructure, ensure that terminal operators increase their capacity and train and retrain our personnel for more efficiency. It can only get better, “She stated.

Residents Applaud NPA
Meanwhile, residents of Onne have expressed gratitude to the federal government and the NPA for increased activities at the Onne Port.
The paramount ruler of Onne, J.D. Osaronu, said the development shows the federal government has not forgotten the community.

“I wish to convey to the management of NPA, the profound gratitude of Onne community for the berthing of the biggest (Maersk) vessel to ever berth in the port of Africa.With this development, we believe that the federal government has not abandoned the Onne seaport and its general cargo status, ”he said.

One of the leaders of shippers at Onne Port, Theo Adoki, described the feat as a welcome development.
“I want to give kudos to the management of Nigerian Ports Authority, the port manager, the harbour master and the entire pilots in Onne Port for this great news,” he said.

General Manager, Husbanding Maersk-APS Onne, Joseph Isang, said the development will chart a new course and bolster the maritime industry in the east and Nigeria as a whole.