About 1million TEUs of containers and 500,000 metric tonnes of general cargo are now being moved from the Lagos ports by barges annually.
President, Barge Operators Association of Nigeria (BOAN) Edeme Kelikume, who disclosed this during the association maiden annual conference in Lagos on Tuesday said that over 50, 000 trucks are also being ferried across the Lagos waters while 25, 000 cars imported into the country are moved via barges to their various temporary destinations yearly.
Noting that access to funds has been a major challenge to barge operators, Kelikume appealed to the government to make the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) accessible to members of the association to support manpower development in the industry.
“We all know today how difficult it is to raise financing locally and here we are as local operators competing with international operators. So, we believe the cabotage fund and similar funds that are being held by various organizations is a veritable tool that will stimulate the growth of this sector into the next level of development,” he said.
To further improve and sustain barging operations as an alternative to road transportation in movement of containers from the port, the BOAN President called on terminal operators to create a dedicated berthing facility for barges especially for export cargo in line with the government’s agenda of diversifying the economy and promoting non- oil exports.
“We are also praying that the terminal operators will see barging as a necessity in their development. For every vessel that comes into the country, there is a need for you to evacuate the cargo on the vessel. It has been well documented and demonstrated in the past couple of years that the barging solution is perhaps the best to effectively evacuate cargo from the port either from vessels or terminal directly. So, the terminal operators play a very key role in lending that support by creating the right berthing facility by giving adequate access to barge operations especially as it concerns export cargo,” he said.
Kelikume also urged the relevant agencies to urgently embark on wreck removal and sectional dredging, address the issue of insecurity and provision of navigational aids to ensure smooth sailing of barges at all hours of the day.
“There is an urgent need to remove most of the wrecks that have littered our waterways for decades. Boats are running into these wreckages and causing huge havoc on the waterways. We also have security issues we are battling with. There are criminal activities when the barges are on transit, at the port and the jetties.
“It is our prayer that the ministry and the various bodies that are responsible for this, will work very quickly towards bringing a lasting solution by evacuating all the wrecks and more sectional dredging of the waterways,” he said.
He said barge operators have the capacity to double the current statistics and boost revenue earnings especially in the export sector as the nation prepares to take full advantage of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) given the enabling environment and support of stakeholders.
In his remarks, Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, assured that the ministry remains committed to the successful implementation of the CVFF with a view to ensuring that indigenous ship operators and aspiring entrepreneurs have access to funds to execute their business.
Represented by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Dr. Magdalene Ajani, Amaechi, said the ministry has directed the terminal operators to create a loading point for barges to ensure quick cargo evacuation from the port.
Noting that barge operations have not been properly regulated over the years, Amaechi urged the leadership of the association to curb proliferation of illegal operators in the business.
He said the ministry has engaged the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) and the terminal operators to draw up a standard operating procedure for the operation of barges with a view to ensuring that maritime business is done in a safe and secure environment.
On the removal of wrecks in the waterways, Amaechi said, “FEC has given approval for the Lagos channel to start and before the end of this month, that process will start. For the Eastern and Western pilotage, the procurement process is on ground. The minute we make our waterways navigable, goods can move from Lagos, Port- Harcourt to Onitsha and that will take quite a lot off our road.”
Chairman of the occasion and former Managing Director of NPA, Chief Adebayo Sarumi, in his remarks urged the barge operators to consider consolidation and merger to reduce risk in the business and look beyond government for financial support.
“You have 88 members as barge operators and except I do not know the meaning of 88, you are taking a lot of risk. This is not to dissuade you but to say you have come into an extremely important lucrative line of service as ancillary to cargo handling and transportation but it requires you to have muscles
“Sometimes, the CVFF is not what you really need because the more you look to the government to do something, the more the government will tell you we have a competing situation in our hands. Let us look beyond the government. We all know that the revenue from the government doesn’t seem to be coming again so look elsewhere and find ways of being extremely reliable,” he said.
He also advised the association to channel their request for a dedicated berthing facility for barge operation to the government through the NPA instead of relying on the terminal operators.
According to him, “Unless a terminal operator is in your business, that waterfront you are talking about is the tool of his trade so it is not likely that he will allow you. But ask the government to provide a place for berthing space for you through the NPA. The port infrastructure can be well managed in such a way that you can have an open place for operation.”