By Innocent Orok
The House of Representatives ad- hoc Committee to determine why the eastern ports in Nigeria are not being put to maximal use has identified inadequate survey and unreliable nautical charts as some of the optacles that scare away vessels from the region.
This was part of the Committee findings contained in their final reports which was obtained by our Correspondent recently. The members also identified inadequate marking of channels with appropriate navigational aids , poor road infrastructure and non functional railways as other challenges.
Others are poor and obsolete equipment, lack of tugboats and pilot cutters, shallow berths and draught deficiency of navigable channels , absence of breakwaters, high siltation and long river passage among others.
On the nautical charts, they noted that the original survey data used for Calabar port and the two charts used for entering Calabar port were acquired by the British Colonial government in 1903 and 1974. While that of Port Harcourt, Onne and Warri ports were acquired in 1910 and 1984 respectively.
According to the Committee “This state of affairs is true for uncharted waters, thus, inadequate survey and unreliable nautical charts remains the main reasons why very few vessels call at the Eastern ports in focus. For instance, the original survey data used to produce the 2 charts used for entering Calabar Port were acquired by the British Colonial Government in 1903 and 1974, while that of Port Harcourt/Onne and Warri were acquired in 1910 and 1984 respectively.
“Although the NPA supplied the United kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO) survey data for updating these charts between 1988 and 2016, the update does not cover the entire spectrum of hydrographic survey, to guarantee the level of confidence to be placed on
them. Pertinently, the Nigerian Navy (NN) has commenced the actualization of the National Charting Scheme by developing indigenous charting capacity.
This will not only ensure self-reliance in surveying and charting of Nigerian waters, but will also end the practice of sending survey data to the UKHO, whose decision on what to be included in the chart most times differ from local need for which the charts were published.
This way, the NN will produce charts that will support maritime activities in and around these Ports.”
On the problems of poor and obsolete equipment , the members discovered that poor cargo handling equipment and other infrastructure in these Ports is a major hindrance to optimal utility of the Ports.
” Most cargo handling infrastructure are degraded and do not attract shippers. Most terminal operations are encumbered by dearth of essential infrastructure for easy evacuation of containers. The consequence of this is the accumulation of avoidable demurrage and strain on port workers. The turnaround for shipping companies would be affected and hence, the use of ports where there are modern equipments.”
Also, lack of tugboats and pilot cutters, again, they said
“There are no tug boats and pilot cutters to serve the vessels going to Eastern Ports. Prior to this time, Shipping companies were billed for these tug boats which were never made available to them, but the vessel Agents have continued to hire tug boats. However it is the responsibility of NPA to provide them”
Another critical inadequate hindrance to the usage of the eastern ports are shallow berths and draught deficiency of navigable channels. On this, the Committee has this to say .
“The average berth depth of Eastern Ports currently stands between 6 – 11 meters (with high silting which seriously affect safety of navigation) compared to the Lagos port with berth depth ranging from 9 – 13.5 meters. With this deficiency most eastern ports would not be able to accommodate large container-bearing vessels except vessels with flat bottom.
“The draughts of the channels leading to the Eastern ports are also lower than that of Lagos. Lagos Port have an average draught of between 9 – 13.5 meters), Port Harcourt -7.1 – 9.1 meters), Warri 6.4 – 7.6 meters), Onne 8 – 11 meters, and Calabar has 6.4 meters during high tide. These draught levels impose additional constraints for the Eastern Ports.
“The shallow nature of ports outside Lagos Ports has discouraged ship owners and importers to divert their ships to Lagos even when their goods are meant for areas like South-South and South-East. This shallow berth depth is one of the major reasons why these ports are not being patronized.
The Committee discovered that lots of dredging contract was given out in the last 10 years and yet the depth of these ports is still shallow.
The Committee further discovered that some of these dredging contracts are under litigation like the Calabar Port. It is worthy to note that Ports in neighbouring Countries have more depths including Ghana with 19 meters and Republic of Benin with 15 meters.”