Shippers Council pledges support
By Godfrey Bivbere
BARGE operators under the aegis of Barge Operators Association of Nigeria, BOAN, have set up a P&I Club, an insurance outfit to protect their investment and operations.
President of BOAN, Mr. Edema Keliekume, who disclosed this in Lagos at a meeting with the management of the Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC, said that they understand the barging business involves a lot of risks such as the unfortunate incident at the Lagos waters recently; and therefore choose to protect themselves.
He explained that they started the P&I Club long before the recent incident but noted that the two incidents that have happened so far are not associated with their members.
The BOAN boss said efforts are on to bring up those involved in barging operations under their umbrella while they seek the support of NSC and other government agencies to assist them bring all operators under BOAN.
He listed some of the challenges that they presently face to include foreigners taking over their business, lack of access to loans and multiple taxations, adding that foreigners are taking over their business and have more expertise, more money, and better skills for the business than their Nigerian counterparts who are relatively new in it.
Also, Keliekume explained that members had no access to loans whereas the foreigners have access to low interest loans and are able to afford more sophisticated facilities.
He argued that multiple taxations from different agencies claiming regulatory functions over the business was another factor working against the success of the business, stating, “We want singular regulatory agency and a singular annual charge for smooth operations”.
Keliekume lauded NSC for accepting to meet with its members and urged the regulator to strike a balance between safety and economic gains.
He stated: “For our service to be more affordable to people there is a need for the cost component not to be high so that it doesn’t make our pricing be high,” arguing that lots of people that came into barge operations for profit gains left the industry because of the high cost of operations.
Responding, Bello said that barge operations have come to stay in the maritime industry because it is helpful to the growth of the economy.
He said, however, that BOAN must contribute to the sanity of the port environment and calls for larger stakeholders’ engagement where other key players in the industry come together to discuss issues affecting the industry.
In his words, “On the issue of pricing, we have to look at many factors in setting tariffs for Barge operations. NSC is looking to set the standard on the price, we are not fixing price but we just want certain standards to be looked into. Also, if we continue to allow unprofessional conduct to happen there will be accidents or incidents that will have negative effects on the economy.”
He assured the group of protection from foreign domination, using the Cabotage Act as applicable, adding that barging operation business must not be made an all-comers affair, but that there should be regulation of entry and exit.
Bello said: “It is all based on bringing down the cost of doing business and the ease of business, protecting indigenous capacity. As far as barge operation is concerned, it is important we look at the Cabotage Act and see how the barge operations will fit in into those areas which are important for Nigerians.
“It is very important to safeguard barge operations as a means of conveying cargo and bring them out of the port. It is one of the multimodal approaches we have always talked about. It will go a long way in making our ports attractive.”
Recall that federal maritime agencies committee on the activities of barge operations on Lagos Waterways recently clamped down on illegal barge and jetty operators around the Kirikiri Light Terminal, saying it harbours notorious hideouts for deviant elements.
The enforcement team led by operatives and security officers from National Inland Waterways Waterways Authority, NIWA, Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, sealed up illegal jetties and loading bays and impounded tug boats without approved certifications along the very busy channel.
Barges that were seen wrongly anchored and obstructing visibility on the channel were immediately compelled to move out of the right of way and find better access and approved access to operate.
The action of the team which took most barge operators and illegal jetty operators by surprise, was sequel to the recent uproar generated by careless barge operators and unlicensed tug boat crew members, some leading to avoidable fatal accidents.
Chairman of the Federal Agencies Committee on the activities of barge operations, Daniel Hosea Gangun, stated that the committee would not relent until there was total compliance of barge and illegal jetty operators to extant regulations on transportation on the waterways.
On the buy-in by stakeholders, Gangun disclosed that the organised private sector barge operators association gave its nod to the enforcement regime, adding that their petitions to sanitise barge operations informed the federal agencies intervention.
Accordingly, the sealed illegal jetties and tugboats without approved documentations were manned by NIWA police to prevent violation of the seal order. The clamped down and enforcement initiative is ongoing and would visit other channels within and around the Lagos waterways in weeks to come.