By DAPO OLAWUNI
Even as the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) is perfecting plans to begin the movement of containers from Lagos Ports to Onitsha River Port via Burutu Port in Delta State, barge operators under the aegis of Barge Operators Association of Nigeria (BOAN) have expressed concerns about time and safety of cargoes.
Speaking with journalists in Lagos recently, President of BOAN, Mr Kelikume Edeme said the fears are borne out of recent accidents within the Lagos waterways where several containers worth millions of naira went down deep into the water.
Edeme however acknowledged the importance of the NIWA project, saying that 50% of cargoes imported through Lagos ports would be evacuated through barges as they are meant for Eastern markets.
NIWA in a recent statement signed by Jibril Darda`u, general manager of corporate affairs, said it would engage the services of Akewa Colmar Terminal Limited (ACTL), a private sector partner, to effectively move containers to Onitsha Port using barges.
Speaking, the BOAN president stated that “With the recent barge accidents, it has shown that a lot more work needs to be done, Lagos to Onitsha is quite a distance”
“Within the Lagos waterways alone, your maximum time of delivery is one day, if you are moving by barge from Lagos to Onitsha, if you are very efficient and fast, it would take you 10-days.
If you decide to go by the creeks, it is the same amount of time”
“A lot of work needs to be done, but I can tell you that NIWA is committed to pushing this project, NPA has given their backing to make sure this happens, BOAN as an association is also working with the traders and regulatory authorities to make sure this happens”
“It would interest you to note that about 50percent of total cargoes coming to Lagos are going to Onitsha and eastern markets of Aba, Nnewi and other environments”
“So if this takes a lot of pressure out of Lagos, it would put life back”
“For every time a barge is sailing, you are creating a blue economy, you are going to revive economies along that corridors, so this project would significantly add more jobs and put more activities on the waterways” he said
Edeme however lamented that there is a lot of overlap in the functions of who actually regulates barge operations in Nigeria.
Three government agencies under the Ministry of Transportation; NIWA, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) are currently laying claim to one regulation or the other about barge operations.
The BOAN President informed that, for port related activities, NPA regulates barges, for inland waterways activities, NIWA controls the area. On NIMASA, every barge being built, before it is commissioned it must have NIMASA sticker, they monitor the class of the barges and ensure it is up to standard.
“It is important for the agencies to work together, good enough they are under the same ministry” he said