The number of investments that would have been channelled into the eastern ports of Bonny, Port Harcourt, Warri and others has been undermined by the spate of insecurity stemming from piracy, militancy and unrest in the region.
Stakeholders have also noted that in addition to the security issues, the shallow depth of the channels has prevented larger vessels from berthing at some of the ports.
The stakeholders who disclosed their plight during a quarterly meeting with the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Usman, appealed to the Federal Government to address the security and infrastructure challenges at the ports so that the area could be opened up for business.
They noted that firms chose to berth their vessels at the Lagos ports and then transport the goods by road to the East despite the huge cost involved.
Raymond Okpi, who spoke on behalf of Notore Chemical Industries, expressed concerns about the shallow nature of the firm’s channel and appealed that the NPA should as a matter of urgency help dredge it.
He disclosed that the Notore terminal had recently secured the oil and gas free zone status, which was creating opportunities for foreign direct investment.
According to him, there are foreign investors assessing the facilities on the ground, ready to enter the Notore free zone and establish but are worried about the shallow nature of the channel.
He said, “I can count the number of foreign investors that have shown interest, but they are waiting for us because we kept telling them that we are making plans to have the channels dredged. As the jetty is today, it is only receiving smaller vessels.
Another stakeholder representing Total Offshore companies, who identified himself simply as Chibuike, expressed concerns over the state of insecurity.
Even as he added that only smaller vessels could gain access to some of the firm’s vessels, he sought to know what mitigating steps were being taken.
He also sought intervention concerning the unrest in the host communities, which he said had witnessed increase in recent times.
The NPA MD, who spoke through the agency’s Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Mohammed Bello-Koko, assured the stakeholders that the agency had kick-started a process to urgently address the infrastructure and security challenges around the eastern ports.
According to her, the Federal Executive Council has approved the construction and supply of monitoring boats while the navy and the Nigeria Customs Service were collaborating with the NPA to address the security situation along the eastern marine space.
She said, “We also have approval for the procurement of six waterfront patrol boats for the security patrol in the immediate channel that is not too far away from the ports.
“We have a security system that enables us to monitor the movement of vessels and ships and to pick them up when there is distress.
“In terms of equipment, we are about to conclude arrangement for the procurement of 60 brand new tugboats to add to what we have; four tugboats are currently being refurbished.”
Usman said there were plans to dualise the Bonny channel to address the issue of delayed vessels.
“But first, we are doing an erosion study along the channel to understand what is currently happening and we are setting up safety enablers to see the possibility of certain types of vessels also going through while the Liquefied Natural Gas vessels are passing,” she said.
“We hope that would be concluded within the year but I believe most likely by the third quarter of the year,” she said.
Also speaking, the Executive Director, Marine Operations, Sekonte Davies, issued a warning to owners of vessels abandoned on the nation’s waterways, saying that if they failed to remove them, the authority would auction the vessels.
He said, “We have asked people to come and remove their abandoned vessels; we have published this and in a few weeks’ time, we are going to auction the wrecks and if it costs us more to remove them, the owners are going to pay.”
The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority, Mr. Umanah Umanah, said what was done in the free zone required collaboration, adding, “I was very happy when the MD spoke on that because what affects the ports negatively also affects the free zone. For example, when the access road at some point was impassable, that affected the operations at the ports and it also affected the operations of our licensees within the free zone.
“When we work in synergy on the issue of security, we can arrive at a more effective solution. Rather than the agencies approaching the government individually, we should work together to ensure that the clients at the ports and the free zone can transact their business seamlessly according to the ease of doing business policy of the Federal Government.
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