“Today, it takes four days for a truck to go through Tin Can Island Port and Apapa port for any business, either to pick container or to drop empty containers”
Mr. Ahana Williams is the Terminal Operations Manager of Base One Bonded Terminal under Bollore Transport Logistics formerly known as SDV Terminal. Shipping Position Daily correspondent Dapo Olawuni last week met with him at his Kirikiri office in Lagos and he spoke on the challenges of bad roads which have caused delay in getting cargoes down to the terminal from Tin Can Island Port. He also spoke on some sundry industry issues. "For you to get into bonded terminal operations, you must have a known liner that would be feeding you cargo"
As a bonded terminal operator, how has the dilapidated ports’ access roads affected your business? Haven known the Apapa - Tin Can road leads to the two ports in the country, it has led to traffic jam every day. It has been a very big disturbance to bonded terminal operators and port terminal operators because the ship turn-around time is not what it used to be; if you check four years ago, if we receive a vessel, under one day, the whole container must have been discharged and moved to bonded terminals. But today, it takes four days for a truck to go through Tin Can Island Port and Apapa port for any business, either to pick container or to drop empty containers. Several efforts have been put in place to see how we can move forward, but we have not made any headway in the promises by the government or even by the state government.For the past four months, the percent of laden containers that come from Tin Can Port to this place has dropped down from 100% to 60% because of the road, if the road is fixed, it would be easy to get back to the TEU. During the last holiday, we were able to move over 900 TEU for the two terminals of Bollore Transport Logistics; we control both Base One Bonded Terminal under Tin Can Port and Phase two which is under Brawal.
Have you thought about moving containers to your terminal through barges? When the roads failed us, we quickly thought about the next option which is movement of containers by barges, we have sat with NPA and customs in Tin Can and Apapa port because we receive cargoes from both ports. Currently, I can assure you that movement of containers by barges is ongoing, during this last public holidays, we did some of our transfers through barges and even before the holidays we have started transfer by barges.
What is your reaction to the fact that seaport terminals are always reluctant to stem containers to bonded terminals? Port operators and bonded terminal operators are in business and the business depends on how you started it. For you to get into bonded terminal operations, you must have a known liner that would be feeding you cargo, some bonded terminals are complaining of not having containers to handle, but we should begin to ask them how they came into this job? Who are their liners and what is their liner doing with them up till date? It is not just about getting into the business and start looking for where to stem containers for your operations.
Currently there is a blame game on who should be held responsible for lack of holding bays If you ask me again, both the drivers and the shipping lines are not to be blamed for the long queue in Apapa, it is the same roads that the drivers and the shipping companies hope to do their business, it is the duty of the Federal Government to fix that road. If you talk about shipping companies having their holding bay, I know that almost all the shipping lines are having their holding bays scattered around depending on their location, but if these locations are traffic jammed, it would be impossible for drivers to take containers to these areas. Also, it is not the duty of the drivers; I believe the government should do something to help both drivers, clearing agents and industry operators.
At the Apapa , we have seen Dangote and Flour Mill volunteering to fix the road, why can't we have same at Tin Can Port also by the operators? I have been in a meeting with Customs Area Controller of Tin Can Island Port, the Port Manager and Customs Deputy Comptroller Enforcement; all in the bid to come together and fix the Tin Can Port road from 2nd gate down to Trinity bus stop and farther to Sunrise, I am aware that several efforts have been put on ground by bonded terminal operators to make the roads better. However, the road is a Federal Government road, and we cannot just get up and start fixing the road, we need to get to NPA who so much controls the area we are talking about, the millions of dollars we are generating from the ports today is controlled by NPA. As port operators, we have been trying all our powers to fix the bad portions of the road so that the trucks would move easily.
What has been the response of NPA to this gesture? NPA, all along calls for a meeting and equally promised that they would call for a meeting to listen to port operators and to give us a back up, but this is not official yet, we need to have a seating with them and discuss on how to get hardcore, granite and pour it at those dangerous places around second gate down to Coconut bus stop. The customs CAC at Tin Can Port have also tried their best to see this thing come to pass.We are trying to do this to ensure that our business keeps moving as government has not been able to fix the road. We have tried to move the industry forward by trying to see how we can manage the road. For us as bonded terminal operators to fix the road, we need to get permission of the NPA, and the Government, but it is not our duty, all what we are doing is to put palliative measures so that the traffic can be lighter.
Do you think the 24 hours port operation order is workable? It is workable because for the past two years, Tin can island port has been under 24 hours operations and Apapa is also doing same, so I would say 24 hours delivery is working perfectly. What are the challenges associated with bonded terminal operation in Nigeria? It is majorly about the bad roads, if you look at our operations, we have good equipment at our terminals, if not for the petroleum tankers from Mile 2 down to Apapa, I don't think we have much challenges, our major challenge is the roads which are being occupied by tanker drivers.
The port area is choked up already, there have been calls for structures to be pulled down, do you agree? If you look at 10 years back when APMT took over Apapa port, I am aware that some warehouses were destroyed in order to expand their premises and container stacking areas. If you look at Tin Can Port also, the same applies. Don't forget that the business is growing everyday. The import laden containers coming to Tin Can Port five years ago may have increased today because we boast on foreign cargoes, so there is need for us to begin to think about expansion of some of the terminals.
Do you also agree that the eastern ports are under-utilised?
If we begin to think that we want to relocate the tank farms along Tin Can Port, when would we start? If we begin to say that we need to distribute cargo to Warri, Port Harcourt and Calabar port, when would we start? About 20 years back, if we had studied carefully, we would have known that we needed expansion, the country's population and the business is growing, and the cargo is increasing. It is good for us to have cargo distribution, but would this government of today who does not think of development do it? Cargo distribution would create employment in this country and it would also decongest what we have in Tin Can and Apapa port, but unfortunately, the NPA that owns the seaport are not thinking about this action. But, definitely if you ask me I would say that there is need to distribute the cargo. If we distribute the cargo, it would also help the berthing of ships, there are some ships that come into our shore and they are kept for up to four days, this is not supposed to be so, assuming we have cargo distribution, some would go to Warri, Port-Harcourt, and Calabar.The government owns the ports, so it is their fault that the Lagos ports are currently choked up.The rails are not working, there is no seaport in the world today that does not have rail; years back, the Apapa port had a rail line, all of a sudden they killed that rail, but today I am aware that they are trying to revive it, they should link it to Tin Can Port, if this is done, most of the problems we are having today will not be there.