IN THE NEWS...
Calabar Port, Despite Constraints, Now Beckons.
By Edmund Chilaka, Ph.D.
The Calabar Port was constructed and commissioned in
1978 as part of measures to address the shortage of port space and cargo
handling infrastructure, which caused the so-called “cement armada”
problems of 1976. The port is located along Latitude 4055N
and Longitude 80 15.3E. It was originally developed during
the colonial era by private merchants. During the civil war, the federal
government cited national security imperatives and announced the take-over
of all port facilities in the country as part of war exigency. Thus,
Calabar port was taken over by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), along
with Warri, Burutu, Koko and Bonny ports in the late 1960s, at the heat
of the war. From the 1970s to the 1990s, it consisted of the Millerio
berth, as the main operational area; Jackson Wharf, for lines vessels
and vegetable oil tankers; Mobil Jetty, NNPC Jetty, Calcemco Wharf,
operated by Calabar Cement Company; and, the McIver and Matilda wharves,
which were used as private terminals.
An analysis of the 2014 figures which showed increased
trade at all ports would reveal that LPC and TCIP maintained their galloping
lead over all other ports in the country. At the same time, Calabar
port also increased proportionately in line with its historically lower
performance over the years, which has been attributed to the poor draught
and lack of aids-to-navigation, as well as other operational-cum-logistic
factors, as mentioned above. Nevertheless, on a statistical note, Calabar
port increased at a higher rate than LPC and TCIP combined, indicating
a possible spike in operator preference for certain aspects of the port’s
characteristics. This might mean a stronger attraction to the space
endowments that the port boasts of, a clear premium in these days of
congestion at the major Lagos gateways. Again, the factor of sustained
dredging campaigns by Lagos Channel Management and Bonny Channel Company
has been noted as a reason for the high cargo throughput performances
of the Lagos and Port Harcourt port systems. Thus, with the recent establishment
of the Calabar Channel Management, and the projected upgrade in its
channel navigational depth and facilities, more action and preference
by shipping lines and logistics operators would likely be noticed in
the Calabar port theatre soon.
As a demonstration, a medium-sized containership can easily move 300-500 containers overnight from Lagos to Calabar port and vice-versa, if the need arises. This solution can be applied to storage of laden and empty containers, to avoid the constant complaints of over-stacking which hampers goods examination during clearance. If this is developed, it becomes a new niche business for interested private terminal operators who could retain the services of the service ships on long-term charter or outright purchase, if the outline business case is bankable. Such a ship, dedicated mainly for runs between congestion-prone terminals and the sprawling unused spaces of the Calabar port, can maintain fixed or variable sailing schedules in consultation with the stakeholders, on the premise, of course, that the Calabar channel will be adequately dredged, buoyed and lighted by the new special purpose vehicle, Calabar Channel Management.
Again, one may ask how the Cross River State government can tap into the future potential expansion of the Calabar port system? First, it must be noted that the recent news about the state government's pact with some foreign investors to apply part of a Euro500 million fund in re-developing the port as a deep sea port flies in the face of the reality on the ground, administratively and in terms of commercial viability and profitability. The state cannot construct a new port of its own as no port developer can construct a port on the coastal shelf of Nigeria’s border with the Atlantic Ocean outside the regulations of the NPA Port Act of 1954 as amended. If the intention is to construct an inland port, such a port developer must also carry the National Inland Waterway Authority along. Thus, no state government can unilaterally embark on the construction or reconstruction of any port as the subject is covered in the Exclusive List of the Nigerian Constitution. Second, the economics of deep sea ports require serious collaboration between the port operators, cargo factors and the manufacturing or production companies which utilize the mega spaces usually appropriated by the deep sea port developers. These commercial indices do not obey the dictates of politics or politicians, no matter how well-meaning or the deep pockets involved; market forces would eventually prevail if the project is to avoid becoming a white elephant project.
For example, in the case of Lagos and the south west maritime axis, all the three projected deep-water ports in focus, namely, Lekki, Badagry and Olokonla, do not stand on the same level of projected viability and profitability, despite their close proximity to the huge Lagos market. Experienced operators and technocrats would attest to this. Their varying profitability and viability ratings are defined by such factors as the existing road networks for cargo haulage into the hinterland or even across the land borders; the ready support, sponsorship or promotion by shipping lines or similar cargo factors; access to adequate funding for the construction of competitive facilities or leading-edge infrastructure; and, long term projections for expansion. In the face of these key benchmarks, a deep sea port to be located at Calabar is a non-starter. Such a facility at Oron or the proposed Ibom deep sea port would be a far stronger contender, all said. Thus, the best future for Calabar port is to key into the logistics chain of the NPA gateway network where it stands the chance to be reckoned with by virtue of its expansive space endowments, ancillary federal road networks and improved navigational standards to be put in place by the NPA-CCM joint venture. Many EPZ manufacturers, shipping lines, tank farm operators, cargo logistics firms and even fishing trawlers, would readily pay to take up abode at the newly improved port when the new channel managers undertake the sustained regime of essential capital and maintenance dredging to assure that big ships can enter and berth without the risk of grounding. It would thus, achieve an equivalent viability with the Lagos, Port Harcourt and Warri ports and justify all the dredging dollars that will be appropriated to improve its channel depth and maintain its aids-to-navigation at international standards all year round.
Dr. Chilaka is a consultant on Nigerian
dredging and maritime businesses and the organizer of the Nigerian Dredging
Summit and Exhibition series.
Our major focus in this edition is the trend of harbor dredging activities which are on an upward tick. It is no longer news that the current stock of river ports in Nigeria are overstretched due to the increase of Nigeria’s economy and the inadequacy of road and rail infrastructure to cope with cargo delivery from the quays. In July, the Apapa-Ijora road was blocked for two straight weeks as all hell was let loose on account of the number of trucks and trailers jostling for the limited road space. Even though the Lagos State Government is fast-tracking road reconstructions, albeit belatedly, there seems to be no solution in the short term.. Read more.
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