Twice in the last two weeks, two reporters from this newspaper had experiences that are, to say the least, indicative that Nigerian ports are not in any way near what can get the node of the drafters of the International Ships and Ports Facility Security Code; popularly called ISPS Code.
Even the Lagos ports, which at one point were adjudged as fairly okay can no longer boast of meeting the recommendations of the ISPS Code. We are really concerned about the state of security at the nation’s seaports, taking into consideration certain issues and development. The privately operated terminals are (not surprisingly) more restricted than the common-user areas.
With particular emphasis on safety of ships, cargo and persons, Nigerian ports may not enjoy good ranking in the reckoning of port users and visitors to the ports. From Port Harcourt to Calabar, Warri and to Onne, Tin Can to Lagos Port Complex, the manifestations are the same. In these ports (with little exception in the case of Onne), it has been difficult to ensure that only genuine port users are allowed access into the ports.
The most potent global instrument to counter influx of people into the ports remains the ISPS code. The code, a creation of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), is an initiative of the Western maritime world as a direct response to the September 11, 2001 terrorists attack on the United States of America.
The ISPS code was officially adopted by Nigeria mid-way into the implementation of the port reform programme. But can we boldly say that Nigerian ports are ISPS – compliant, even though the ports management claim that the facilities operate on different levels of compliance.
Going by the dictates of the IMO, security level one requires that there should be minimum, appropriate and protective security measures within the ports. The second level of security is that there should be appropriate additional protective security measures which shall be maintained for a period of time as a result of heightened risk of a security incident. Security level three is the time when there is the probable or imminent risk of a security incident. At this level, there must be further specific protective security measures for a limited period of time when a security incident is probable or imminent, although it may not be possible to identify the specific target.
We have observed that what the Government did in its attempt ensure compliance with the ISPS Code was to create another organ in the name of the Presidential Implementation Committee on Maritime Safety and Security (PICOMSS) which at a time assumed a larger- than -life status in the maritime sector; accountable only to the Presidency. It is on record that the body only succeeded as an avenue to siphon money through all methods.
Back to the present security status of the ports, one can not convincingly say that the ports are as secured as they ought to be. On a good day, there are scores of people with questionable justifications who are all struggling to gain access into the ports. Doubt it, go to Apapa or Tin Can island port any day and you will be amazed at the mass of human beings who have either gained entrance into the port or who are milling around the entrance.
Our editorial team was at both ports last week in an attempt to have a first hand feel of the state of security right form the gates to the various terminals. While Apapa port still has a reasonable level of restriction at the gate, the same can not be said about Tin Can Island port where (shamefully), the main gates have almost given way and could no longer be closed.
Our correspondent in Rivers states who had filed in a story about the installation of an access control device at Port Harcourt port gate has also written to alert that the system has developed a fault; that it is no longer working and that it is back to the days of manually screening (if at all there is nay check).
When juxtaposed with a significant part of the ISPS code which requires that access into the ports must be controlled electronically, Nigerian ports can not be said to be compliant. It is certain that none of the nation’s seaport is fitted with electronic gadgets which can only admit genuine port users who do not need to extend gratification to indolent and corrupt security personnel at the gates.
We have also observed a worrisome development where a significant disparity exists between the security consciousnesses at the various terminals. A visit to some parts of Onne port in Rivers state , APM Terminal and PTML, in Lagos and a visit to other terminals will reveal that the level of security at the above ports and terminals is quite better than what obtains at most of the terminals that are classified as indigenous.
Going by the assurances that were given at the onset of concessioning in 2006, no one ought to be able to enter Nigerian ports again without electronic card.
The recent attack on Atlas Cove is a confirmation of the fact that Nigerian ports are vulnerable to attacks. The unbridled influx of people into the ports is also a confirmation that the country is far from being ISPS compliant.
The sooner that the federal government, through both the ministry of transport and the Nigerian Ports Authourity takes concrete steps to secure the ports’ approaches from both land and water, the better for the country.