Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), South-South coordinating office, Port Harcourt, last week reviewed the under-utilisation of the Eastern Ports, which comprises seaports in Port Harcourt, Onne, Warri and Calabar.
The ports’ low business operations have been a source of worry to stakeholders in the zone. At the end of a one-day awareness seminar organised by the NSC, the stakeholders, drawn from export business, shippers, those in clearing and forwarding, among others, they came out with a 23-point communiqué.
The stakeholders considered that, in line with international best practices, the Federal Government should revisit the policy of restricting vessels or ships from night sailing in the country, especially the Eastern Ports and called on Federal authorities to put in place necessary safety facilities and security measures to enable ships to sail at night.
In addition, they also expressed the need to improve on infrastructures within the Eastern ports to make them more user-friendly to shippers and other stakeholders, especially to achieve up to 10m depth of the water channels.
That the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), as a matter of necessity, should step up action to provide sufficient functional tugboats, pilot cutters, and other appropriate equipment necessary for prompt safe berthing and sailing of ships at Eastern ports.
It is the considered opinion of participants that the Federal Government should make deliberate policies to give incentives to encourage cargo owners, whose cargoes are destined or originating from Eastern ports catchment areas (especially South-East and South-South states) and neighboring states, to use the Eastern ports, in order to bring port services closer to the people.
The participants agreed on the need to make tariff regime for Eastern ports friendlier, considering the peculiar geographical location, so as to attract more patronage and sought for the installation of functional scanners across Eastern ports, to enhance speedy clearance of cargoes/ goods.
To the seminar participants, the Eastern ports should be appropriately linked with other modes of the transport system, such as functional rail system and good road network, so as to evacuate and safely deliver cargoes in or out of the ports.
While expressing appreciation on the efforts by the NSC to organize the awareness seminar, the stakeholders noted that the NSC as the Economic Regulator of the ports should be metamorphosed into the National Transport Commission (NTC) since they are already performing similar functions.
Stakeholders should also key into the NSC’s complaint handling mechanism through the Port Support Service Portal (PSSP), and harmonized standard operating procedures (SOP) to address their problems/ claims.
Importers and exporters were encouraged to subscribe to Cargo Defence Fund, set up as a Cargo Protection/ Indemnity Scheme, established to mitigate losses incurred by shippers who may not have the financial muscle to pursue their legitimate maritime claims. At the same time, they said there was the need to decongest Lagos ports and place emphasis to make Eastern ports more active for a better economy because the cargoes in West are going to South-South.
Participants equally agreed that the Federal Government should take steps to bring a National Transport Commission to life, and hand it to the NSC to manage. Added to this is that there is the need to create connectivity among all the ports in the Eastern zone, to enhance increased activity, thereby creating job opportunities in the area that will bring socio-economic development to the Niger Delta.
Meanwhile, there is a need for Government to separate politics from the management of Nigerian ports, to strengthen the Eastern ports. The government should strengthen the activities of the Eastern ports by introducing incentives.
Just as the stakeholders were advised on the need to encourage competition among all the terminal operators in the Eastern zone, the private sector in the South East and South-South were urged to form a common front, using the chambers of commerce within the region as a base.