By Akanimo Sampson
At a Strategy Group Meeting of the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping, a retired Rear Admiral, Dele Ezeoba, unequivocally indicted maritime operators for most of the reported cases of piracy in Nigeria.
He said that nine of 10 reported cases of piracy in the country’s waters had an insider information. Already, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the ex-naval chief is pushing for a well articulated security, communication and enhanced welfare of the crew of vessels and standard global practices to improve professionalism.
According to him, there was need to renew the waterways for safe passage and ensure good navigation all year round. He said that there should be availability of integrated communication system which would allow for local and prompt reporting of incidences at sea.
‘’If a ship in our waters has an accident, the first place that gets a message is International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in Singapore and the IMB will now call Lagos. What could have become a simple misunderstanding between two people is translated to piracy and that has consequential effect on the cost of doing business in Nigeria.
‘’To stop the issue of piracy in Nigeria, we need to improve safety awareness by seafarers. From experience, we have come to realise that no thief will go to steal in a place he doesn’t know’’, Ezeoba said, adding that Nigerian security agencies, including the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), had synergies in improving the security operations on the waterways through surveillance, response initiative and enforcement.
He was speaking even as the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) said that the development of deep seaports hold the key to resolving the bottlenecks and delays that have characterised shipping services in existing ports in the country.
The coming on stream of deep seaports which are being developed in Akwa Ibom by the state government and in Lekki, Lagos by a private consortium, may see the designation of existing ports as transshipment facilities.
These are part of the features of a Port Master Plan NPA is advocating. The absence of such plan, according to the NPA General Manager in-charge of Special Duties, Capt. Ihenacho Ebubeogu, accounts for the traffic gridlock encroachment on port areas and indiscriminate mounting of security checks by the Customs and other agencies within the maritime industrial environment.
The meeting was however, organised by the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping to facilitate the Ease of Doing Business in Nigerian Ports in Lagos.
Ebubeogu said community interference on government right of way had been hindering the development of the Western ports, pointing out that there was need to develop the deep seaports while the existing ports should be designated as transshipment ports and improve on Inland Container Depots (ICDs) to revive shipping business in the country.
‘’If NPA had a master plan, the whole of Creek Road in Apapa will have been added to the port environment because port master plan is to regulate the tenancy in that particular environment. If Creek Road had been included in the port master plan, there is no way tank farms can be very close to the port.
‘’Issue of customs mounting various checkpoints is affecting Ease of Doing Business because time is money. As we are building ports, we should not consider port plan but port master plan because a port plan only covers the jurisdiction of the port, while a port master plan is planned to consider the port and its maritime industrial environment’’, Ebubeogu said.
According to him, the port in Port Harcourt and railway line to Enugu were constructed following the discovery of coal in Enugu. ‘’Presently our investigation shows that some people have built houses on the rail line.It is important to look at port infrastructure such as channel, the port itself and the geographical area the port would cover for importation and exportation of goods and services.’’
President of the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping, Andy Isichei, said that underutilisation of Western ports had negative impact on the economy as a result of constant gridlock on the port access road, adding that the constant gridlock on ports access road had constituted a danger to public infrastructure when the bridges had turned to parking lots.
He attributed the gridlock on port roads to many cargoes designated to western ports and inefficiency of the water channels of Eastern ports which could not accommodate bigger vessels.
Contributing, former Director, Centre for Logistics and Transport Studies, University of Port-Harcourt, Prof. Osi Akpoghomeh, said that inefficient port system had accumulated the congestion on the sea as well as the land, and accordingly urged the Federal Government to improve on road infrastructure to stop the constant traffic.