*As Transport Minister laments non-regulation of operators
Lagos — PRESIDENT Barge Operators Association of Nigeria, BOAN, Mr Kelikume Edeme has said that the group over moved 1Million containers and about 500,000 metric tons of general cargo from the ports in Lagos annually, just as the Minister of Transportation, Hon Rotimi Amaechi has admitted that activities of barge operators in Nigeria is not well regulated.
Amaechi disclosed that the ministry is working on issuing a new Standard Operating Procedure, SOP, for barge operators.
He said that since the traffic gridlock in Apapa and its attendant congestion at the port have defiled all solutions, barge operation has served as efficient means of transport to move containerized cargoes from the port in Lagos to designated points through waterways.
Amaechi who spoke at the 1st Annual Conference of Barge Operators Association of Nigeria (BOAN) with theme; Barge Operations as Panacea for Port Congestion” held at Marriot Hotel Ikeja, Lagos.
Amaechi who was represented by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Dr. Magdalene Ajani advised the BOAN to get rid of the illegal operators in their fold, saying that the ministry has documented reports of barge operators doing illegal transactions.
He said “They are giving you a bad name. We have already documented it, but it now falls back on you to make sure it does not continue”
Speaking, Amaechi said “It has been observed that barge operations have not been properly regulated, though the NPA, NIWA, NIMASA and Shippers Council are playing their role and working in synergy to ensure that barge operations are conducted in line with the rules and regulations”
“It is in this regard that the government is interested in discussions involving relevant stakeholders to ensure that barge operations are properly regulated and that those involved participate in their operations in line with the laid down rules and regulations”
“It is however disheartening to note that the congestion at the Lagos ports are defiling frantic efforts and strategies put in place by the government to resolve the problem and ensure free movement of cargoes in and out of the port. Therefore, efficient barge operations is being considered as an effective strategy to resolve the challenges.
The Minister assured that the ministry has engaged Nigerian Ports Authority, National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA, Nigerian Maritime Adm,inistration and Safety Agency,NIMASA, Shippers Council and the Terminal operators to draw up a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the operations of barges on Nigerian waterways.
He said the ministry have equally told terminal operators to create loading points for barges at their various terminals.
He however charged the group to look beyond government funding for their business, and that they should refrain from seeking assess into the Cabotage Vessels Financing Fund (CVFF)
“You are definitely taking a lot of risks, this is not to dissuade you, it is just to say that you have come into an extremely important and lucrative line of service as ancillary to Cargo service and transportation”
“But, it requires you to have muscle, the CVFF is not the muscle you are looking for, because the more you look unto Government to do something, the more they would tell you that they have competing situations at hand”
“Let us look beyond government because their revenue is no longer coming again as expected, so I advise BOAN members to look elsewhere”
Similarly, BOAN’s president, Kelikume Edeme said while commercial barging of cargo from the port has its teething challenges, BOAN members have contributed to reducing perennial gridlock on the port access road by taking some volume off the road.
He said, “BOAN as an association has become a child of necessity with the objectives of sustaining the barging industry as well as organising the activities of its members in a professional and efficient manner owing to the emergence of barging as a viable compliment and alternative to road transportation, particularly in the wake of the perennial traffic gridlock along the Apapa port corridor which had resulted to our nation losing huge earnings due to port congestion and poor vessel turn around.”
The BOAN President listed regulatory, navigation, infrastructural and human capacity as some of the challenges militating against commercial barging operations in the country.
He said in spite of the challenges, “the future looks very bright for the industry to rise up to the occasion of contributing and revamping of our economy by improving the maritime sector and boosting revenue earning especially in the export sector, as the nation prepares to take full advantage of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA)”.
He called on government to urgently embark on the removal of hazardous wrecks from the waters, sectional dredging and provision of navigational aids to ensure safety and smooth sailing of barges at all times.