Van Oord and three indigenous Nigerian dredging companies have successfully clinched the much delayed job of dredging the lower river Niger from Warri in Delta State to Baro in Niger State.
In a paper delivered at a stakeholders meeting convened at Warri by the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) to raise awareness of the dredging project in October 2007, Mr Mike Dike, general manager (engineering) listed the three other successful contractors as Fung Tai Engineering Company Nigeria Ltd, Dredging Inter and Marine Services Ltd and William Lloyds Technical Company Ltd.
Five lots have been approved for the entire dredging project. Lot 1 which is Warri to bifurcation of Nuns and Forcados Rivers went to Fung Tai Engineering Company. Lot 2 (Bifurcation to Onitsha) went to Dredging Inter and Marine Services Ltd. Lot 3 ( Onitsha to Idah) and Lot 4 (Idah to Jamata) went to Van Oord ( Nigeria) Ltd. William Lloyds Technical Company Ltd got Lot 5 which is Jamata to Baro.
Dike asserted that funds were “now being sourced from approved sources to enable the mobilization of these companies for the commencement of the dredging exercise”.
He gave a geographical account of the river, saying that it was fed by tropical rain and exhibits “clearly defined flood and low water seasons”. According to him, the flood season starts in June, peaks in September and is completely receded by December ending.
The rest of the period, he said, is low water season, with the highest recorded difference between high and low water marks being about 9m. He said the river bed is alluvial and is in constant transformation by flood waters. Thus, series of deeps and shallows (called crossings) mark its course as it flows towards the delta. Between Lokoja and the bifurcation at Onya, forty crossings have been identified which create bottlenecks of various magnitudes to smooth navigation on the river Niger. To the south of the bifurcation, the paper continued, the major navigational problem is “restricted width and sharp bends”. Therefore the Lower Niger dredging projects seeks to enlarge the channels and deepen them, close secondary or non-viable channels, provide turning basins and achieve appropriate water depths along the riverside facilities to be constructed or rehabilitated.
What are the dredging requirements for the Lower River Niger?
The paper puts these as consisting of the following activities:
- Capital dredging, involving opening of waterways/navigation channels; construction of sand dams to close secondary branches; widening of creek routes; straightening of over-developed meanders and stockpiling of excess sand.
- Derocking (rock removal), involving blasting of rock outcrops and removal of blasted rock debris.
- Construction of River Training Works (RTW). RTW are engineering structures used to stabilize the rive beds and deepen channels by producing natural scouring. The structures are specific and individually adapted to the requirement of each site. Examples of such structures are bottom panels, groynes, dykes and barrages, break waters and revetments.
- Recurrent (maintenance) dredging. This is to maintain a minimum channel depth of 2.5m and a top width of 100m for all-year-round navigation.
- Hydrographic surveys involving pre-dredging and post-dredging surveys for the calculation of dredge columes and to determine changes in river morphology.
- Installation of navigational aids including buoys, traffic signs and security lights.
- Erection of survey momuments from Warri through Port Harcourt to Baro.
Mr Dike’s paper highlighted the following project components as originally planned. They are:
- Capital dredging of 572 km of Lower River Niger from Baro in Niger State to Warri in Delta State.
- Construction of modern inland ports of Baro, Idah and Lokoja.
- Completion/Rehabilitation of Onitsha Port
- Construction of River Training Works(RTW).
- Maintenance dredging of the River Niger after completion of the capital dredging.
- Construction of Gulu-Baro Road (20km) to provide access to Abuja.
In terms of new developments, he said that recently Mr President has approved that access navigational channels be opened up from the bifurcation to Port Harcourt (deep sea port) and from Lokoja to Makurdi ( Benue River).
What are the project considerations in creating and maintaining a 572-km “aquatic highway” on the River Niger through dredging. The NIWA top official said the peculiarities of the project mandated its division into lots using natural boundaries. They are also of different mileages as follows:-
Lot 1: Warri to Bifurcation 154 km
Lot 2: Bifurcation to Onitsha 116km
Lot 3: Onitsha to Idah 118km
Lot 4: Idah to Jamata 108km
Lot 5: Jamata to Baro 76km
Each lot has been awarded to a consultant and a contractor for the purpose of execution. Haskoning Engineering Consult Nigeria Ltd is the consultant for Lot 1 while Jayuda Int Ltd is the consultant for Lot 2. Dredging and marine Consultants Ltd is the consultant to Lot 3 while Enplan Group is the consultant to Lot 4. Lot 5’s consultant is AIM Consultant.
Benefits of River Niger Dredging.
The NIWA top official listed various advantages derivable from the Niger dredging project including:
- Flood control: The creation of distinct navigational channel and the closing of the secondary and non-viable channels will concentrate water flow on the main channel thereby reducing flooding of the farms and the living areas.
- Improved navigation: The dredging exercise would create an aquatic highway which would attract more activities in terms of conveyance of goods and persons through the water.
- Increased carrying capacity: The carrying capacities of barges and tanker barges are much more than those of trailers and other road-based vehicles. The capacities of most of the barges are 1000 tonnes upwards which consists of more than 33 trailers of 30 tonnes each.
- Improved economic activities: With increased shipping activities along the dredged Lower Niger Channels, most of the adjoining communities will experience increased economic activities. Commerce would experience a boom thereby generating employment opportunities especially around the port areas.
- Cheaper and safer means of transport: A 1000-tonne barge carrying goods from Port Harcourt to Onitsha would consume less than half the quantity of fuel then a trailer carrying only 30 tonnes of goods for the same destination. When this cost is distributed among the units of goods, the result if obviously cheaper. Carrying these goods by barges in a dredged channel is also safer since the probability of accident is negligible.
- Educed axle load on roads: Nigerian roads would enjoy some stability if water transportation is improved. The carrying capacity on water is quite higher and so axle and damaging loads on the roads would be reduced. Cost of maintaining these roads would be reduced.
- Recreational and sporting activities: Both recreational and sporting activities would improve. Some of these activities are foreign exchange generating events.
Tracing a history of the dredging project, Mr Dike said it had been on the drawing board without any real implementation since the 1960s. He averred that in 1996 the Federal Government approved the project covering a distance of 572 km from Warri to Baro and the construction of three river ports in Baro, Idah and Lokoja. The contracts were awarded by the defunct Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF) to six contractors although they failed to perform. DDH had reported earlier in the year that the Federal government via NIWA had recovered some of the money paid out to the foreign and local dredging contractors who were mobilized by PTF but did not perform. As at press time however none of the contractors had been mobilized. DDH checks drew blank on any financial inflows from the government, as one of them firmly confirmed.
However, a veteran dredge operator with experience of dredging in the Niger Delta confided in DDH that the dredging campaign will be fraught with many problems. He cited an example that operators, especially in the lots within core-Niger Delta areas, might suffer a lot of deprivations at the hands of the communities before completing their projects. He said during his last dredging attempts in the area, he was made to pay toll at every stage of the work as the local community youths and peoples would demand payment for even movement of pipes into dredging sites.