Still in the mood of celebrating indigenous terminal operators after 10 years of creditable performance in the ports, Business & Maritime West Africa visited Greenview Development Nigeria Limited to see the changes that have taken place at the terminal. In this interview, the Managing Director of the company, Abba Bukar, highlights these changes, operational constraints and future plans. Excerpts:
How did you meet the Terminal when you first took over from the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA)?
I believe you want to know the physical condition of the terminal when we took over? Well we took over in April, 2006, and even before we took over, Dangote was operating here. There were Dangote Sugar Refinery and Dangote Flour Mills. These two factories were operating along with some NPA facilities. I can remember there was a Container Terminal, a car park, an empty container depot for SDV. There were also some dilapidated structures like abandoned railway slippers, pile of iron ore, and number of abandoned empty containers etc. But then, some of these structures were functional, while some were not. In the course of transition, a lot of damages were made to some of the infrastructure. But by and large, I wouldn’t say that the structures were terribly bad. Most of these structures required to be cleaned and renovated while of course some of them were removed .e.g. the container terminal, the empty container depot, and car park.
We also encountered security challenges during the transition period because of withdrawal of NPA security. This admin. office was badly vandalized.
In summary, though cargo operation was going on, some of the facilities, infrastructure and equipment were not efficiently functional. While others were at various stages of deterioration.
We had to do extensive cleaning, clearing and renovation to bring these facilities to standard.
What improvements did you make in terms of equipment availability, turnaround time of vessel, cargo turnaround time, security and all that?
This Terminal is basically a bulk cargo handling terminal, though we can also handle general cargo. In the concession agreement, we are expected to provide certain facilities and equipment for efficient discharge of bulk cargo, general cargo and even containers.
We met some cargo handling equipment on ground e.g Wheat unloader, conveyor belt, hoppers, pipelines for transfers of liquid bulk etc. There were also storage facilities like warehouse, silos and tank farms. These facilities were all provided by Dangote and WABECO. There was no NPA equipment except the warehouse which had been leased to Dangote.
In order to improve efficiency and increase productivity, we embarked on massive improvement of the cargo handling facilities e.g we increased the number of hoppers from four to ten, increased number of wheel loaders, freight lifters, forklifts, container handling tippers and renovated the Conveyor Belt. Of recent, a new unloader was commissioned.
We have also increased our storage capacity by building two warehouses with 110,000 metric ton (mts) capacity and wheat silos of 45,000 metric ton capacity. New open stacking areas were developed to accommodate 90,000 mts of Coal and Gypsum.
These investments in equipment and storage led to increase in productivity and reduction in vessel turnaround time. Most of our vessels berth on arrival, completely eliminating waiting time delay. Daily discharge rate for bulk cargo has increased to more than 10,000 mts while vessel turnaround has reduced from 15days to average of 5 days for dry bulk.
In the case of security, there is improvement in illumination. Physical security is provided by an authorized security company and a contingent of policemen including marine police. We have two patrol boats to patrol the water front because we are under constant attack from Ogogoro village.
What is your level of investment in the Terminal so far?
So far, we have spent about N4billion on acquisition of new cargo handling equipment like wheel loaders, freight lifters, trucks, spreaders, unloaders, hoppers and renovation of existing infrastructure. We have also invested about N1.5billion on construction of warehouse and grain silos.
We are the only Terminal that has state-of-art Fire Station and Firefighting equipment, Water Tankers and personnel. Built and equipped with over N80million.
We just started construction of Berth 21 at the cost of about $60million when completed, it will enlarge our quay length from 570m to 710m that can conveniently accommodate 3 big vessels. To sum up the level of investment so far on infrastructure, facilities and personnel is about N25billion.
What further improvements do you envisage for the terminal apart from all you have so far said?
The Terminal serve as discharge facility for the raw material requirement of all Dangote Industries. This includes raw Sugar, Salt, Wheat, Gypsum, Coal LPFO etc. which are major raw materials for Dangote. As the Group is expanding, there is corresponding need for the Terminal to expand.
So in addition to the new berth, we are developing Cement Export terminal to export excess to other African countries.
To reduce traffic congestion in Apapa, we have acquired 200hectres of land along Ibadan Expressway to develop trailer park and introduce call up system. This area will also serve as inland bulk/general cargo terminal for Dangote Cargo. We also want to take over the Dangote Terminal at Onne and develop it into modern dry and liquid bulk terminal. Due to the nature of cargo we are handling, we are heavily investing in the environment to prevent leakages, spillages and on remediation.
What are your operational constraints?
Initially, the operational constraints we encountered on takeover were that of low draught at berth of about 9.0m and shortages of craft like pilot cutters and tug boats, thus delaying ship berthing. But, with the cooperation and assistance of NPA, these problems have substantially been resolved.
Draughts in our berth are now about 13meters, making the channels even deeper. Ships with 11.5meters draught can conveniently berth without any problem. There are also adequate marine crafts.
Our second major problem was security, both at Terminal and Water Front. We were losing cargo especially raw sugar due to massive stealing. With the employment of additional security and assistance from Nigeria Police, the Terminal is now enjoying absolute security. However, the water front still constitutes a major challenge, as vessels are constantly attacked by thieves and stowaways. We have however invested in two patrol boats and secured assistance of Marine Police.
Another major problem is the port access roads. The roads have virtually collapsed and there are always heavy traffic build-up and congestion. Because of absence of trailer parks, trucks often use the roads as parking areas. The issue of bad road is being addressed by Alh. Aliko Dangote, who has started to reconstruct the road with concrete at the cost of about N500million as part of CSR while our Terminal is addressing the road congestion with acquisition of about 200 hectares trailer park. The terminal is also bearing the escalating cost of power, water and facilities.
How would you rate Nigerian Ports at the moment and which areas do you think need further improvements?
The ports are efficient, delays in berthing and discharge of vessels have been reduced, and there is increase in investment on equipment and port infrastructure. All these positive developments lead to increase cargo throughput. There is reduction in cargo dwell time.
However, due to the prevailing economic situation in the country, ship and cargo traffic have reduced leading to retrenchment of staff in some terminals. This is however a temporary setback.
At the peak of time, the ports were congested basically due to capacity and accessibility problems. Lagos Ports are right inside a township, with the two major roads leading to the Ports subjected to serious traffic congestion.
If we are to become hub port, there is need to open Greenfield Ports which are highly accessible and connected. Hopefully the proposed Lekki and Badagry Ports would give serious competition to Cotonou. We should also explore cargo delivery via rail and inland water ways.
Do you agree with views that the port concession has not met its aims and objectives over the past ten years of operating the systems?
I do not agree with the statement. As a matter of fact, there are improvements on the physical infrastructure, IT, etc. leading to efficiency in port production and cargo throughput. However, these improvements did not translate to reduction in port cost.
Though cargo dues and ship dues have increased marginally since concession, cost of cargo delivering, demurrage, terminal handling charges etc. have increased exponentially. This is what cargo owners want reduced.