“The long awaited FEW3 service, which is a direct service from the far East into Eastern Nigeria has started, and we are here to witness the first call”.
With these words, the Commercial Manager of West African Container Terminal, WACT, Mr. Noah Sheriff, on March 16, 2020 welcomed KYPARISSIA, a gearless 4,800TEU capacity Maersk ship which was making good Maerskline’s vow to start diverting its Far East operations to Onne, Rivers State as from January 2020.
Earlier in August 2019, another shipping company, Hull Blyth, had facilitated the arrival of a container ship: MN Boreas operated by Marguisa Lines into the Calabar Port after over 15 years of absence.
These are sure indicators that the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, was serious when she pledged to transfer some excess load from the Lagos Ports to the Eastern Ports in Calabar, Port Harcourt, Onne and Warri to decongest the Lagos Ports.
However, this commendable gesture will bear even better fruits if the NPA takes steps to eliminate the cost of freight differentials between the Lagos and Eastern Ports which is between N700,000 to N1million to the disadvantage of the Eastern Ports.
The main reason adduced for this differential is the ill-maintained channels leading into the Eastern Ports. Big vessels are unable to come in.
It is part of the core mandate of the NPA to dredge and maintain the ports and marine channels. There is no credible excuse that can be adduced to justify why the marine channels into the Eastern Ports cannot be adequately dredged.
After all, some of these ports have served this country for about 100 years. It cannot be understood why they remain neglected.
Again, the issue of security is often proffered as another reason for the difficulty in shipping through the Eastern Ports.
To this we ask the question: Is it not the job of the Federal Government to secure the country, including its maritime resources? What are the Nigerian Navy and other armed Federal agencies doing?
Is it not their duty to flush out the pirates that disturb business and social activities in these areas of the country? Nigeria had no problem operating these ports before the civil war and up to the past 40 years. Enough of these excuses!
Nigeria is paying a heavy price for neglecting the Eastern Ports because lack of job opportunities in that part of the country stokes violent crimes and pushes everybody to Lagos in search of survival. Lagos is thus choked up as evident in the Apapa gridlock, and everybody suffers.
Putting the Eastern zone of the Nigerian maritime industry back to work without scrabbling around for empty excuses is the best way to go.