By David Oladimeji
persistent congestion in the Lagos Ports access roads which has been hindering movement of cargoes, the Federal Ministry of Transportation, is considering efficient barge operations as an effective strategy to resolve the challenges.
Speaking at the First Annual Conference of the Barge Operators Association of Nigeria (BOAN) in Lagos, the Minister of Transportation, Hon Rotimi Amaechi, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, in the ministry, lamented that it was disheartening to note that the congestion in Lagos Ports has defiled frantic efforts and strategies put in place by the government to solve the problem and ensure free movement of cargoes in and out by roads with it’s attendant stagnation of the economy.
The Minister said: “The ministry in exercise of it’s mandate to ensure that maritime business is done in a save and secured environment has engaged the Nigerian Ports Authority ((NPA), NIWA, NIMASA, Nigeria Shippers Council, and terminal operators to draw up a standard operation procedure for the operations of badges in our water ways.”
He also disclosed that the ministry has has embarked on developing an all encompassing and inclusive National Maritime Transport Policy that will stand the test of time and forster robost maritime policy that will fast track sustainable socio economic development.
He said the policy will seek to actualise implementation of a seamless , save and secured intermodal transport system in Nigeria. It will also provide efficient barge operations in the country.
“Stakeholders should make positive contributions towards the identified challenges to ensure industrial harmony for the benefit of the nation’s economy taken into consideration the need to sanitize the maritime subsector.
The Minister said President Buhari attached importance to the maritime sector and therefore expects all stakeholders to play their respective roles in making the subsector more productive.
“I want to reassure you that the Federal Ministry of Transportation in it’s part is committed to partnering with other government agencies
The president of the Barge Operators Association of Nigeria (BOAN) Edeme Kelikume, said over 50, 000 trucks are also being ferried across the Lagos waters while 25, 000 cars imported into the country are moved via barges to their various temporary destinations yearly.
He lamented that access to funds has been a major challenge to barge operators.
He pleaded with the government to make the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) accessible to members of the association to support manpower development in the industry.
“We all know today how difficult it is to raise financing locally and here we are as local operators competing with international operators. So, we believe the cabotage fund and similar funds that are being held by various organizations is a veritable tool that will stimulate the growth of this sector into the next level of development,” he said.
The BOAN President called on terminal operators to create a dedicated berthing facility for barges especially for export cargo in line with the government’s agenda of diversifying the economy and promoting non- oil exports.
“We are also praying that the terminal operators will see barging as a necessity in their development. For every vessel that comes into the country, there is a need for you to evacuate the cargo on the vessel. It has been well documented and demonstrated in the past couple of years that the barging solution is perhaps the best to effectively evacuate cargo from the port either from vessels or terminal directly. So, the terminal operators play a very key role in lending that support by creating the right berthing facility by giving adequate access to barge operations especially as it concerns export cargo,” he said.
Kelikume also urged the relevant agencies to urgently embark on wreck removal and sectional dredging, address the issue of insecurity and provision of navigational aids to ensure smooth sailing of barges at all hours of the day.
“There is an urgent need to remove most of the wrecks that have littered our waterways for decades. Boats are running into these wreckages and causing huge havoc on the waterways. We also have security issues we are battling with. There are criminal activities when the barges are on transit, at the port and the jetties.
“It is our prayer that the ministry and the various bodies that are responsible for this, will work very quickly towards bringing a lasting solution by evacuating all the wrecks and more sectional dredging of the waterways,” he said.
According to him barge operators have the capacity to double the current statistics and boost revenue earnings especially in the export sector as the nation prepares to take full advantage of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) given the enabling environment and support of stakeholders.
Chairman of the occasion, Chief Adebayo Sarumi urged the barge operators to consider consolidation and merger to improve their financial performance and reduce risk in the business rather than relying on government for financial support.
“You have 88 members as barge operators and except I do not know the meaning of 88, you are taking a lot of risk. This is not to dissuade you but to say you have come into an extremely important lucrative line of service as ancillary to cargo handling and transportation but it requires you to have muscles
“Sometimes, the CVFF is not what you really need because the more you look to the government to do something, the more the government will tell you we have a competing situation in our hands. Let us look beyond the government. We all know that the revenue from the government doesn’t seem to be coming again so look elsewhere and find ways of being extremely reliable,” he said.
He also advised the association to channel their request for a dedicated berthing facility for barge operation to the government through the NPA instead of relying on the terminal operators.
According to him, “Unless a terminal operator is in your business in waterfront you are talking about is the tool of his trade so it is not likely that he will allow you.