By Samson Echenim
The National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) says the decision of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to order diversion of ships to eastern ports due to congestion at seaports in Lagos is a confirmation that claims of improved vessel turnaround time at the Lagos ports were lies and mere propaganda.
Even though, NAGAFF said the direction was in line with international trade rules, the largest body of freight forwarders in Nigeria maintained that political gimmicks introduced into the port system led to the poor state and low patronage of eastern ports, insisting that the ports must be allowed to work in order to ensure smooth trade and improved ease of doing business in the country.
Following congestion at seaports in Lagos that has lasted for over two months, the NPA on Friday ordered ships which could not get berthing space at Apapa and Tin Can ports in Lagos to the eastern ports.
The eastern ports under the NPA port district are ports in Delta, Rivers and Cross River states. They include, among others, Onne Port, Rivers Port in Port Harcourt, Calabar Port and Delta Port, Warri. The ports in Calabar and Warri have suffered low patronage since they were concessioned in 2006.
The new directive if followed by the international shipping lines, is expected to boost business activities at the eastern ports.
NPA in a statement on Friday said the directive was in response to the recent increase in the waiting time of vessels calling at the Lagos Port Complex, Apapa, adding that it had met met with shipping companies and terminal operators and arrived at the decision aimed at immediately resolving the congestion in the Lagos Pilotage District.
“As from Monday January 27, 2020, vessels which have waited to berth at any terminal within the Lagos Pilotage District will be diverted to other terminals with capacity to berth vessels within the district. In the event that all terminals in Lagos cannot discharge any vessels within four days, such vessels will be diverted to the Eastern Ports (other pilotage districts) for immediate berthing.The authority will liaise with other relevant government agencies on behalf of stakeholders to expedite the clearance of vessels and cargoes, where necessary,” NPA said in the statement by Jatto Adams, general manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications.
“These actions have been taken to promote the Ease of Doing Business Policy of the Federal Government and curtail the negative economic impact that the long turnaround time of vessels has on stakeholders,” NPA added, as it begged “the cooperation of all stakeholders.
Reacting to the NPA directive, Uche Increase, national president of NAGAFF, said diversion of ships to eastern ports has become inevitable as the congestion in Lagos ports continue in addition to very poor port access roads.
He noted that ship diversion to another port order than her origination port of destination is necessary when there is severe congestion at the port, war, strike or similar situations that warrant a diversion, adding that naturally, it is the decision of the master mariner to divert a ship.
He said, “The directive by NPA is in order and in line with international trade law, where there is war, congestion, strike or similar situations. In this case, where the directive is from the port management authority, it shows that ship turn around time has not really improved. It is a confirmation of the fact that all this reports of improved turnaround time they are giving us is all propaganda. Vessels still wait longer time and unfortunately, this is not good for ship owners because lay day should not exceed three days. Otherwise, the charterer will incur charges from the ship owner.
“The problem has been that politics was introduced into Nigeria’s port system after the civil war. They want all the cargoes to come to Lagos ports. It is the introduction of politics into the port system since the Biafran war that is the cause of poor state and therefore, low patronage of eastern ports. Otherwise, it is abnormal for a shipper in Aba or Nnewi to use a port in Lagos. A shipper will always consider cost, nearness and efficiency before choosing a port.”