The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) announced recently that as from January 27, 2020, vessels that could not secure berthing space in Lagos ports would be diverted to ports outside Lagos. These ports are: Calabar, Onne, Port Harcourt and Warri.
In addition, the NPA also directed that ships that may have waited for berthing at the various terminals in the Lagos Pilotage District, would also be diverted to terminals with capacity to handle such a vessel in the ports in Lagos.
Furthermore, it added that, if the terminals in Lagos cannot discharge any vessels within four days, such vessels will be diverted to the Eastern Ports for immediate berthing.
The decisions, according to NPA were aimed at tackling congestion which has almost crippled activities in Lagos ports.
According to the NPA, it was in the interest of everybody to divert such vessels to other ports instead of waiting endlessly, sometimes for three weeks, to berth and discharge cargoes while accumulating costs on elongated dwell time.
We learnt that, the directive has already been issued to the terminal operators as well as shipping firms and implementation has started, but the success and compliance ratio can not be ascertained as at now.
No doubt, there have been challenges with cargo evacuation from the ports in Lagos for quite a while; the challenges arose from the poor state of the approaches to the two ports. The roads are in a very bad state, leading to delays for trucks exiting the ports and those with empty containers.
The two ports of Apapa and Tin Can have been overstretched and are unable to cope with the volume of cargoes that they have to handle. In contrast, apart from Onne, other ports have been idle, albeit for different reasons.
Calabar port has the capping of Ikom Bridge and limited drafts as challenges inhibiting the size of ships that can call there. Efforts to dredge the channels leading to the ports have become a drain pipe. Until recently; Warri port has also suffered neglect owing to shallow draft and insecurity. The entrance of a consortium led by Sifax Group as a concessionaire in old Wari port is however expected to breathe new life to the port.
The case of the inactivity in Port Harcourt port is largely due to the proximity of the more modern Onne port. Port Harcourt port is old and needs a facelift.
These bring us to the reason behind the diversion, which according to the NPA is its reaction to the congestion in Lagos ports. The agency attributed the congestion to an upsurge in volume of cargoes in the ports because of closure of land borders. It never said that cargoes have been piling up in the ports because of the difficulty of evacuating already discharged cargoes from the terminals.
Cargoes cannot exit the terminals because there is no free access to the highways, the highways are blocked because they are in a poor state, making it difficult for trucks laden with empty containers and those laden with exports to access the ports.
We daresay that the above, rather than border closure is the reason Lagos ports are congested. To limit the reason for congestion to border closure is akin to self-deceit. Lagos ports’ access roads have been bad for more than one decade; border closure is just a few months old. We also agree that, there are overtime cargoes; this also added to the congestion.
We are also worried about the legal implication of the directive. Shipping is international, and even though municipal ac may give NPA such powers to diver ships, there is no international law that grants such , and more especially since the port of destination is already stated explicitly in the contract of carriage, which is in the Bill of Lading.