THE Maritime industry in Nigeria has over the years been the engine room that has kept the Nigeria economy moving. Without it, there would be no import or export of products into the country or out. So the importance of ensuring the continuoaus safety of vessels that sail into Nigeria waters can not be overstated.
To this end, the Federal Government needs to ensure that the channels leading to the nation’s ports are not only properly dredged but that all hindrances to smooth navigation are removed, and all Aids to navigation are put in place and properly maintained.
The Nigeria Maritime Administration and safety Agency, NIMASA, has stressed the importance of a secured waterway to the nation’s economy. Former Director General of the agency, Ade Dosunmu, had noted that the role played by the country in the West African sub-region economically, makes it imperative for the nation’s waterways to be made secured for safe navigation at all times.
According to him, “Nigeria as a country accounts for over 60 percent of the total seaborne traffic in volume and value in the West African sub-region and that makes up over 60 percent of the total Gross Domestic Product, GDP, of the 16 countries that make up the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS.”
He pointed out that this massive cross border trade is anchored on the Nigerian axis. Any challenge of the Nigerian maritime sector will definitely have a ripple effect on the entire sub-region.
The former NIMASA boss also noted that a similar postulation could be made with the oil and gas sector where Nigeria is the sixth largest Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, exporting country, and contributes significantly to the global energy supply. The importance of the above scenario, he further noted is that Nigerian territorial water must be safe for shipping at all times.
To stress the importance of secured waterways, the Director General of NIMASA, Dakuku Peterside, recently ordered all wrecks along the nation’s channel to be removed by the owners within the next 21 days or risk sanctions ranging from forfeiture to removal by the agency at the owners expense.
The involvement of private sector investors through the joint venture partnership between the private sector and the NPA has helped a great deal in ensuring the navigational safety of the port channels.
In 2004, The NPA management in partnership with the private sector established the Lagos Channel Management Company, LCM, and the Bonny Channel Company, BCC. The BCC was established to create and maintain a safe navigational passage for all marine users to and in the Eastern Ports of Bonny Island, Onne, Okrika, and Port-Harcourt while the LCM is saddled with the responsibility of dredging and maintenance of the Lagos channels for the safe movement of Vessels. The Managing Director, LCM, Danny Fuchs, said “The company has carried out an extensive wreck survey of the Lagos Port, both visually, and with sophisticated side scan sonar (used to locate and plot submerged wrecks).We also carried out a magnetometer survey in 2007 to enhance and verify initial information collected.”
According to the LCM, the survey identified over 70 submerged wrecks that required urgent removal throughout the navigable channels of Lagos Port. The Managing Director of the NPA ,Ms Hadiza Bala Usman in a recent interview acknowledged that the LCM had removed about 100 critical wrecks in the Lagos Channels since the Authority’s partnership with the company began years ago.
The LCM says that the company is focused on enhancing safety in Nigeria waters. It has ensured that the Lagos port buoyage system remains intact and efficient since inception, while all buoys are refurbished every two years and those that are damaged are repaired within 24 hours.
“LCM has also strived to improve aids to navigation, including the re-instatement of shore beacons and the upgrading of the entrance channel buoys with active AIS transporter. “While LCM is now relatively well established, our continued belief is that with the co-operation of the concessionaires and private jetty operators, we will not only achieve the stated objectives for which we were created, but also surpass them,” Fuchs said.
The BCC on its part has worked to ensure safety on Nigeria waters by making sure the buoyed navigational routes are free of obstruction by focusing on continuous dredging, the removal of wrecks, maintenance of aids to navigation and by providing towage services. The BCC has also successfully implemented its Safety Assessment Evaluation and fulfilled the requirements for the provision of turning circle within operational channels.
The company’s dredging of the Bonny channel from fairway buoy to KP27.5 to a depth of 13.8m in 2009 enabled the Nigeria LNG limited, NLNG, to operate round the clock, seven days a week with no tidal restrictions.
Then in 2011, the BCC deepened the channel even further to accommodate larger vessels. The company is reported to have removed 14,000,000m3 of materials by capital dredging, 61,000,000m3 of material by maintenance dredging, installed and monitored 83 buoys, removed 45 wrecks and invested over 6,000 hours in training and knowledge transfer.
Due to its commitment to safety standards, the BCC has also pledged to support the NPA in establishing the Port Training Institute. With the provision of 50 per cent of the fund required for the purchase and installation of the simulator for the centre.
As Nigeria continues its drive for sustainable development, the country must constantly keep its focus on ensuring that there are no hindrances to maritime safety and the smooth movement of vessels on its waters, thereby ensuring increased trade and economic growth for the country .
The BCC says the joint venture has complemented the technical capacity of NPA with regards to the channel maintenance and capital dredging of the channels. The company’s dredging of the Bonny channel has made it possible to maintain draught at 14.3m. Thereby making it possible for easy and safe movement of vessels along the route.
According to Faber, “the BCC will continue to safeguard the optimal nautical access through Bonny channel to Bonny Island with a view of securing safe and efficient operations at the Island’s Oil and Gas Terminals, as well as through Bonny River to the Port of Port Harcourt and Onne”.
Mr. Victor Akhidenor, a maritime analyst, wrote Lagos.