By DAPO OLAWUNI
The Barge Operators Association of Nigeria (BOAN) has urged the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to carry out all due diligence on the disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) so that members of the association can access the fund to grow their businesses.
The association has equally commended the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali for rescinding his earlier decision to ban evacuation of cargoes from the Lagos ports by barges.
Speaking at a press conference in Lagos on Thursday, President of BOAN, Mr. Edeme Kelikume charged NIMASA to improve on capacity development for seafarers, especially deck men and captains, saying that their is shortage of manpower in the industry to manage operations.
Kelikume said that statistically, 300,000TEU of containers were moved by barges while in 2019, while the national output was 1.8million TEUs. He lamented that barge operators are still operating below 20 percent of the total capacity of the market space, and that trucking still accounts for 80percent.
He said “Barging is not new in Nigeria, it has been going on the Niger Delta for years, however, using barges to evacuate cargoes from the port is fairly recent
Today, we have about 30 barge operators under NPA”
“It is a new industry, capacity development is very important, we are working with NIMASA to see how they can train more people, the deck men, the Captains, how we can have the right equipment”
“There is also a talk about the Cabotage fund which has been moribund for a couple of years now, it is important for the fund to be accessed by our members so that we can begin to build new equipment that would ultimately lead to safer operations”
“We currently have a challenge of high cost of operations, the other challenge is windows to pick cargoes from the port terminals” he said
Meanwhile the association has urged customs CG to issue an official circular, directing officers at the command to resume evacuation of cargoes by barges.
Customs had on 12th of March issued a circular, stopping all evacuation of cargoes by barge. The Customs alleged that some barge operators were using the advantage to divert cargoes to illegal warehouses without necessary duties paid on them.
Speaking on this, the BOAN President said “We commend the CG for withdrawing his decision to ban barging activities due to infractions by a few members of the association that we are yet to identify”
“We also request for a formal circular from the Customs command that would document the reversal, we heard it in the media, and we have heard from senior Customs officials who confirmed to us that indeed, it has been reversed, but it is very important to us as it is done in government circles that the reversal be properly documented for future reference”
“There is skeletal operations going on at the moment, a few of the officers are using their discretion to allow operations to commence, however, a few of them are still awaiting the circular before allowing full operations to commence”
Kelikume advised that I the future, proper consultation should be made by the Nigeria Customs before churning out policies that would affect the generality of Nigerians.
Also speaking at the briefing, National President of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Hon. Tony Iju Nwabunike commended the Customs for heeding the cry of stakeholders by suspending its earlier circular banning movement of containers by barges.
According to the number one custom broker in Nigeria, the Customs Service has the right to do what they wanted, but it is important that they carry stakeholders along in implementing any of their activities.
Nwabunike argued that ANLCA and the barge operators are increasing the revenue from the maritime industry, and they should be applauded for that.
“We are urging our members to be law abiding and compliant to the laws guiding our areas of work. We thank Customs for giving us opportunity to come back again and ferry our cargoes by barges, given the level of gridlock we are experiencing at the port”
“Using barges to evacuate containers is the best right now because the roads are bad, and it is equally a world standard practice, especially in the KYOTO Convention” he said.