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…Govt had grounded many in the past
Stories by Isaac Anumihe
Before April 3, 2017, towage services in Nigeria were poor and its absence denied Nigeria a lot of revenues. Ships that require deep channels would avoid the country and land in neighbouring countries of Ghana and Benin Republic.
In view of those losses, the Federal Government on April 3, 2017, bought four tugboats worth over $30 million to improve towage services in the maritime industry. With the launch of the boats, Nigeria now has a total of nine tugboats to enhance its revenue and improve the towing business.
The tugboats are Mt Daura, Mt Ubima, Mt Uromi and Mt Majiya, named after towns and communities of some prominent Nigerians.
Speaking on the benefits of the vessels, the Director General of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman, said that the boats will enhance Nigeria’s revenue because a lot of vessels calling in Nigeria will now be comfortable to call into the country realising the amount of towage capacity that is available.
“We have an FPSO (floating production storage and offloading) that is coming and an FPSO requires this level of facility. So, we are confident that we can bring in and maneuver any type of vessel into Nigerian ports. We do hope to increase the number of crew members in future,” she said, adding that the tugboats will enhance towage services and improve revenue,” she said.
On the selection of names of the boats, Usman explained that the names were taken from towns and communities of prominent Nigerians.
“We identified towns and communities where leaders that have ruled this country emerged from. So, that is what informed the naming of these vessels. These new tugboats can tug in very huge vessels and a lot of our operators have been concerned about the towage services we are providing. With this new entry and in addition to our fleet, we are going to be more efficient in delivering services,” she said.
Regrettably, however, Nigeria does not have the skilled manpower to handle the ships to the extent that a foreign company was hired to train Nigerian captains on how the boats can be piloted. This arrangement has cost the nation a huge sum of money.
But in trying to explain this lapse, the DG said: “Currently, we have management services using a foreign firm. The foreign firm is training Nigerian pilots. I think within a period of three months they will be able to hand over to the Nigerian captains who are already on board now familiarising themselves with the technology. Nigerian captains are well-trained. What they are trying to achieve now is to understand how this automated top of the range tugboats operate.”
However, a master mariner, Captain Iheanacho Ebubeagu, said that apart from being used to move ships, the tugboats can fight fire and control pollution.
The Executive Director, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Alhaji Bashir Jamoh, said that with this development, his agency is planning to take delivery of the 5th largest modular floating dockyard in Africa and this will save the Federal Government, at least, $100 million annually.
Although Nigerian maritime experts have hailed the efforts of the Federal Government in acquiring the vessels, they, however, disagree that government should operate the boats. They argued that the Federal Government had ran several boats aground and so these new boats should be concessioned to the private sector for efficient operation.
National President of Association of Nigerian Customs Licensed Agents (ANLCA), Mr. Olayiwola Shitu, argued that the acquisition of the tugboats is a product of good thinking but expressed fear that the Federal Government would soon run them aground like other tugboats if they are allowed to manage the towage service. To this end, he moved that the towage service should be concessioned to the private sector.
“Tugboats are needed for mooring and unmooring vessels. But the problem I am having is that the tugboat operation would have been concessioned out for efficiency because the Federal Government has had so many tugboats and they are lying idle. You know in Nigeria we don’t write things off. We wait for the day of auction. If they concession them and people pay for their services through dues and other payments, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) can afford to get royalty through that area.
“Rather than allowing a vessel to go aground, you can tug the ship to safety. That is the job of tugboats. It is not necessary for tugboats to berth vessels or to push vessels but when it is concessioned, those companies can now expand the number of tugboats they have that can also help in the movement of containerised cargo into the inland container depot. The cargoes can move from Lagos port here under escort to Onitsha. The commercial activity in Onitsha will boom again.
“All these are factors of having adequate tugs escorted by heavily-armed boats. It is part of the multi-modern system of operation. So, if the Federal Government cannot handle it or get a company to handle it, it should concession it out.
Also, another maritime expert, Mr. Ismail Aniemu, said the tugboats will increase port efficiency and accelerate vessels turnaround time.
“It will also quicken the movements of vessels to berth. The more vessels that come in, the more revenue you make. Many vessels are waiting for too long because there are fewer tugboats,” he said.
According to Mr. Bolaji Akinola, maritime expert, said the tugboats will help the industry handle larger vessels in Nigeria. It will ensure that Nigeria takes advantage of economy of scale that is happening across the shipping sector.
“Don’t forget that we are in the days of big and mega ships. So, we must be prepared for it. We must be able to handle very large vessels within our waters. That is what the new tugboats can do. It will help us to compete with other ports in the world in ensuring that we handle large vessels that call into our country,” he said.