Pirates and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) have seemingly shared the souls of the nation’s anchorage, with the bandits taking over Bonny, the NPA taking over Lagos, even as Government gives promissory note on Warri Anchorage.
Investigation by NOMMA showed that whereas any pirate who may operate in Lagos anchorage may do so with fear and trepidation, any vessel or government agency that would operate within the Bonny channel or anchorage would similarly betray same traits.
Presently, according to investigation, shipowners plying the Bonny Zone either have to pay ship protection fee to the hoodlums; or dare his ship, with a full load of self engaged armed security operatives.
Investigation by NOMMA also showed that the NPA is to blame for the pathetic state of the anchorages, where there is failure to provide assets to aid navigation.
However, a Shipowner and President of the Nigeria Shipowners Association (NISA), Aminu Umar confirmed NOMMA investigation, describing the Warri Anchorage as a very tough one.
Pointing out that the Lagos anchorage is only the one anyone can sincerely lay a reasonable claim of safety or security, the revered shipowner added: “There is another one in Warri, Delta State, which is a tough one. Many vessels are afraid of that place. In fact, international vessels don’t drop anchor there. Even as for a Nigerian going there, our insurers charge us higher because it is considered as an unsafe area.
“Another anchorage is the one in Bonny, Rivers State. This one is considered totally unsafe. So, no vessel stays there”, he explained, that even the Lagos anchorage still suffers attacks by sea robbers, in offshore Lagos.
“Like I said, Bonny anchorage is the most dangerous. No vessel is able to anchor there. And in my own thinking, the security of any anchorage falls within the domain of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) because anchorages are under the NPA and they should be able to maintain the security for vessels to be safe when they come there. Unfortunately the NPA is not doing so for now.
“The next infrastructure is moving from anchorage to the berth.
“What we want to see is that the channels are well dredged and correctly charted and clearly marked, so that navigation is well aided. A vessel cannot see under the water, so it needs to be directed through the aids to navigation for it to find its way.
“But some of those channels have no buoys, so the captains of the ships only work by intuition of the Pilot who everybody believes knows where the vessels is supposed to be going. But, remember, this asset is worth millions of dollars and it is insured. Insurance is clearly stated to you that you only go to places that are channelled and marked.
“If majority of the Nigerian water channels are not marked, it means you are in negligence of whatever you are doing based on your insurance terms. This is what we are facing. That is why we say the infrastructure is not there.
“Two, the vessels need assistance of the tug boats to assist the vessels to come along side. There are many places today in Nigerian ports where there are no tugboats. And every ship that goes into port pays for these tugboats to the NPA. We pay them and they don’t deliver it and they don’t refund the money to you!
“We have had experiences of so many accidents that have caused damages to our vessels because there were no tugboats to support the ship, or because the channels were not clearly marked, as a result of which vessels would leave the channels and go to hit fishing nets owned by local fishermen and we would pay fines. The NPA does not come to your rescue at that, even though the channels belong to them and you pay for harbour services.
“In other parts of the world, there is no way you have fishing nets in a vessel channel area. There are designated fishing areas that vessels don’t transit through. Where the vessels pass through, fishing does not take place there, especially spreading nets.
“A fishing net can spoil the ship propulsion. The moment the net entangles the propeller, it goes into the rope guard and breaks the seal. The seal lubricates the propulsion, so when it is broken it is problematic. We had an experience when that happened and it cost us millions of dollars, for a fishing net that may cost only N100,000.
“We lost so much on that ship. The price was huge as it took the ship five months to get back to work. But, it is the responsibility of the NPA to take the vessel to safe harbour. If there is a fishing net, then it is unsafe for the vessel. In the event the vessel comes in contact with a fishing net in a community that has put the net along a channel, it means it is illegal for them to do that. It is the NPA that should handle that, not the shipowner, because we have paid for that service.
“In shipping globally, every movement of the ship is guided by a chart, which are updated quarterly or bi-annually, and they give you what the depth of the water is. But we move mainly on uncharted areas because nobody knows the depth. It is just like walking blindly on an area you don’t even know. That is how we have been moving around and we have suffered so many loses, and no assistance from anybody, none of the agencies.
“So, you are left on your own. There is actually no equipment and mechanism in our maritime sector to handle accidents. If there is today a maritime accident, those involved would be left to their own fate.
Tracking the development, an industry watcher blamed the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), noting that in the beginning the nation’s anchorages were safe until the NPA began to neglect the sanctity of the navigational equipment and infrastructures.
“Every anchorage was initially safe. But when NPA began to neglect the timely replacement of stolen or missing buoys or dredge vital areas; focusing mostly on Lagos, the problems began.
“The result was that the Lagos anchorage has today emerged a safe zone. While the safety of any other anchorage outside Lagos is truly in doubt.
“In Nigeria, everything is politics. You can even see it in the life of the present administration. The first two years was work, work, work! You can’t say exactly the same of the months ever since,” the Industry watcher stated further, speaking on conditions of anonymity.
Initial efforts to obtain an official reaction of the NPA was hard, but finally a response came, even though late, with the Image maker of the Authority, Engr. Adams Jato,seemingly speaking volumes without really saying anything, concretely.
“We have various types of infrastructure on ships arrival at anchorage and when berthing at the quay depending on the need. These infrastructure are well in place and upgraded often”, Engr. Jato stated, without indicating when or the nature of the equipment.
“We have recently surveyed the Anchorage areas in Warri and Calabar. They are safe for navigation.
“The Lagos Anchorage is expected to be surveyed as soon as the procurement process is completed. There is actually no difference in the two anchorage they are just described by location. The security situation in Niger delta make Bonny anchorage an issue and the JTF are always on ground to protect the ship at the anchorage.
“Some significant works have been done on warri – dredging, survey, some Aids to Navigation are in place.
“For Calabar, expected works are in the Procurement process”, the image maker further highlighted, advising that further equiry should be directed to the Authority’s website.
“All the depths of our channels are published in our websites and the updates are contained in the regularity published notices to mariners. These are published and on our website.”
“There is an existing collaboration among the agencies of government operating in the ports; so responsibilities can fall on various entities in case of an accident,” he finally concluded.
A Maritime Industry watcher, Samuel Egbewole, in a swift reaction noted that it was either the image maker didn’t know the enormity of his office, he was exhibiting the pronounced characteristics of playing further politics.
The ship owners look forth to seeing improvement in areas where they have experienced challenges and hope government would take up its responsibility to boost operations in the maritime industry in Nigeria.