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Is NPA Lying About Delta Port Draft Condition?

BY EGUONO ODJEGBA

Yesterday the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) denied reports about claims of cargo ships running aground in parts of the Delta Port operational area.

Reacting to media inquiry about the reported cases of six ships that ran aground over shallow drafts, the authority said any cargo vessel that claim to have run aground at the Escravos Channel within the Warri pilotage district must have been engaged in illegal entry, effectively rubbishing the claims of stakeholders that the Delta Port is challenged especially in the area of low drafts, which requires urgent dredging.

Despite NPA’s denial, operators and stakeholders at the Delta ports, particularly the Warri Port insisted that six vessels ran aground at the Escravos  Channel in the past one month, a development they claim seriously  hindered operations, as the channel is effectively rendered impassable for other cargo once a ship runs aground.

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Critical stakeholders say the incidences are due to the damaged breakwaters and shallow depth of the port channel.  According to a marine pilot operating in the area, Capt Charlie Tobi, the situation is getting worse.

Tobi said that an oil tanker, being the last vessel that ran aground a few days back ago was still stuck on the Channel as at yesterday.

“Let us say that in the last one month, six vessels have ran aground on the Escravos Channel, the last vessel that ran aground was a tanker named ‘MT Nene.”

Strangely, NPA General Manager, Marine and Operations, Captain Jerome Angywunwe who despite confirming the incidents, said that that most of the affected vessels are the ones that came into the channel illegally, because according to him, the said vessels had no marine pilot onboard to guide their movement.

Then in a somersault, he reportedly admitted that the Channel has challenges and that the NPA is working very hard to fix the submerged breakwaters and make the channel navigable.

That official attitude of always seeking who to put the blame has remain a major disservice on the path of its responsiveness to repairs and maintenance; no wonder key infrastructure such as quay aprons in parts of Lagos ports were left and poorly attended to until their eventual collapse, apparently due to official lethargy and unspeakable official evaluations, by those paid to make our ports safe, efficient and functional.

NPA’s position is even more sad to say the least, since it cannot produce a shred of evidence to indicate ships in default; wherefore, such assertions should be regarded as unproductive retort and crass assumptions.

The new government should hold the management of the authority wholly responsible and should be told in strong terms that they are not paid to make assumptions but to engage in purposeful and real time administration of ports operation.

NPA Managing Director, Mohammed Bello-Koko May last year disclosed that the federal government had begun dredging the Warri seaport as part of efforts to expand the Escravos channel to enable bigger vessels to call at the port.

Bello-Koko who made the disclosure during his a courtesy visit to the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atuwatse III, said the project when completed would enable the Warri port to have a better draft, receive bigger vessels and record lesser incidents of vessels running aground.

In fact, he informed that the authority has also started the mapping and charting of the Escravos channel, starting from the fairway buoy down to Koko Port, which according to him have not been done for over a decade.

“We have a special interest in ensuring that Warri and other ports are more active. This is why we have been holding stakeholders’ meetings and we are going to Port Harcourt for another one.

“This enables us to engage with the importers and exporters for them to know that these ports are available for use. We will deploy more marine equipment and ensure that the signals are also working to ensure the safe navigation of vessels”, adding:

“This will bring joy to the people especially those that are into the business of importation, who have been yearning for the decongestion of the Lagos port and the bringing of business to the Warri port.”

Speaking with Pinnacle Time recently, Sir Chidi Njoku, Chairman NPA Daily Berthing, Warri Port, lamented the poor cargo traffic inflow, noting that the port receives an average of one ship a month, due to the poor state of the channel and associated official damaging propaganda painfully put in place to de-market the port by vested interests, purportedly within  government circle.

He said, “I can say that the volume of cargo is zero, one vessel in five weeks, and the vessels in question as chartered, they are not commercial cargo vessels which prefers Lagos ports since the federal government gives more attention to the ports in Lagos.

“Here, the breakwater and channel is zero, vessels with huge depth, deeper than 6ft cannot access the channel. As we speak there is a vessel that ran aground at Escravos Channel, MT Mosumora. Because of this, no other vessels can come in, there are two vessels stranded and waiting because of the blockage. Most of the vessels we are talking about bring in liquid bulk cargo, PMS and diesel, not dutiable cargo, so there is urgent need to dredge the Warri port and increase the draft.”

Interestingly, despite claims by the NPA that the Warri Port dredging has been on course, recent estimates for proposed projects also listed the Escravos Breakwaters and Channel, being the most double speak that clearly manifests the official deceits of a federal authority that should impartially run the affairs of the nation’s ports.

Closely connected to this official appetite for deliberate misinformation, is stakeholders concern about the dubious and sustained official propaganda, contained in the mapping which categorize the Delta Port as risk zone.

Leveraging on the alleged internal sabotage, the international community is believed to have readily latched onto the damaging report to impose the war risk insurance premium; which regime has effectively and permanently de-marketed the Warri Port.

The above reality is not helped by official crocodile tears often shed at all levels, and in which seeming expressions of concerns and proposed actions to deliberately re-connect the port and make it part of the instruments of the national GDP, has remained nothing but essentially empty refrain.

A clear example is the potpourri of claims of interest, of counter claims and contradictions amongst top officials of NPA, who appear to have been programmed to treat the Warri Port like Nigerian politicians treat those they represent.

Speaking on the Warri Port, a national daily quoted a former NPA General Manager, Marine and Operation, Captain Ihenacho Ebubeogu as saying the Warri Port needs urgent attention to be able to operate optimally; and listed the pre-survey of the channel as first step.

“One cannot cheat nature as it always fight back, the breakwaters must be repaired for that port to be functional optimally and I want to ask at what draft is the vessel that ran aground.”

Also, a member of the Warri Pilotage District, Captain Tajudeen Alao, quoted as speaking on the development, however said five and not six incidents were recorded in the last one month and attributed the situation to siltation.

“I am on the Warri Pilotage Board and we have not been informed of the incident. When you have incidents like this, the Pilotage Board will meet and look into it. Having said that, Escravos Channel requires dredging and marker buoys.

“If precautions have been taken and the buoys are well marked then the effect would have been either human error or mechanical faults. The repair of the breakwater is long overdue because that breakwater has been in the condition for more than thirty years. The depth of the Channel should be more than its current 6.4 meters.”

Recently, the president of the Shippers Association Delta State, Austin Egbegbadia, in an interview with the Punch, Nigeria’s leading credible newspaper said that shippers were not happy with what was happening at the ports.

“You see, the issue of the port is a very long one. We are not happy with what we are seeing. We say the port is functional but only for wet cargoes that are carrying petroleum products.  Though the port is bringing money to the government, our concern is the interest of everybody and how it affects the economy of the state and the people where the port is sited. And it is when liner vessels that carry general cargoes or containerlised cargoes start coming in on a regular basis that we know that people are now employed.”

Egbegbadia explained that wet cargoes are classified government imports which have very little impact in job creation.

“When it is wet cargo, it is all mechanised. When the vessel arrives, it picks a pump and pumps straight into the pipeline. Nobody is employed, so it does not provide gainful employment to anybody and doesn’t affect the economy of the state positively. But if general cargoes come in, there are jobs for everybody, from the vulcaniser to everybody. Even shippers like us cannot say they want to export anything from here because it does not go from Warri port.”

From the totality of interventions and submissions above, one can safely deduce that NPA has not only been economical with the truth, it would seem that the authority has raised the bar in its capability to create smokescreen and to effortlessly churn out half truths and deliberate falsehood as a weapon of official manipulation of unsuspecting Nigerian public.

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