Stories by STAN OKENWA
Deep seaports are ports developed by massive dredging of a shallow waterfront for the development of seaport to boost shipping and related operations.
Many states and their governors are making serious moves to invest in the business even as none of the existing six seaports are currently operating to full capacity due to poor growth in shipping industry.
Key maritime pundits argue that having five new deep seaports in Nigeria, in addition to Rivers port, Calabar Port, Onne Port, Warri Port, Lagos Port Complex Apapa and Tin Can Island Port is excess, as there may not be enough market for them because they have remained under utilized for more than 50 years running.
At the last count, up to five states are pushing for the scheme. Lagos State is pushing hard for the Lekki deep seaport and Badagry mega-port while Ondo and Ogun States have been championing the joint development of the Olokola deep seaport for about a decade.
Akwa Ibom State, joined the fray about four years ago under its erstwhile governor, Godswill Akpabio, with the proposed Ibaka (or Ibom) deep seaport, while Ben Ayade of Cross River State, had immediately on assumption of office as the governor of the state in 2015, became a strong advocate of the Calabar deep seaport.
Speaking in an interview, a financial analyst, Dr. Ken Igboanugo, queried why any state government should, in this period of economic recession, expend as much as $2billion on a facility that might not yield good future returns or add significant value to the economy of the state or better the lives of its citizens?
He said “I honestly do not believe that any deep seaport outside Lagos will be viable. There will not be sufficient cargo volumes to support such facilities in the next 50 years. This is clear enough from the current underutilization of existing port facilities in the country, especially those facilities outside Lagos.
He cited instances, saying, while the ports in Lagos have capacity utilization of about 50 – 60per cent at present; the ones in the South South – Warri, Port Harcourt and Calabar – have about 25per cent capacity utilization.
The exception will be Onne Port which is fairly busy. Even the so-called Olokola port; can it honestly compete with the ports in Lagos or the ports of neighbouring West African countries such as the Autonomous Port of Cotonou or the Port of Lome for cargo?
He called on the governments of governments of Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers States to join hands with the Federal Government to address the shortcomings of the Calabar Port so that it can attract business and compete with other ports in the sub-region.
The shortcomings of the Calabar Port include shallow draft, which has made it impossible for large vessels to berth, poor port access road and the restriction imposed by the Ikom Bridge.
Statistics show also that the role of Lagos seaport as the only deep seaport has not been well optimized.
Container throughput at Lagos ports is expected to hit two million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) by 2020 whereas the maximum capacity that the ports and the Inland Container Depots (ICDs) in the State can accommodate is 2.2 million TEUs.
Lagos ports alone handle 90 per cent of the cargo in and out of Nigeria. With this expected growth in container volumes, the combined capacity of Apapa Port fully-developed and Tin Can Island Port and all the Inland Container Depots (ICDs) in the Lagos area is expected to be inadequate within the next five years. The same situation also applies to general cargo terminals.
But in a sharp contrast, Mrs. Joy Uwabueke argued that a new port will be needed to keep up with the demand for capacity, as the existing ports are surrounded by the city and cannot be further expanded.
Currently, two new seaports are at various stages of development in Lagos State. Leading global terminal operator, APM Terminals and its consortium of partners are developing the new Badagry mega-port project and Free Trade Zone while Indian firm, Tolaram Group, is spearheading the Lekki Port project being developed within the Lagos Free Trade Zone.
According to Mrs. Uwabueke, “Since the existing ports in Lagos will run out of capacity in the next five years – a new port has become imperative but certainly two new deep seaports will be an over kill after all”.
Continuing, a master mariner based in Apapa, Mr. Kola Amosun, expressed worry over the choice of Lekki as a location for deep seaport considering the fact that the area is a liner peninsula that has only one access road.
He explained that “The natural location, the supporting infrastructure and the support of stakeholders are key success of a Greenfield port. In choosing the location of a Greenfield port, the factors that must be considered include natural deepwater and harbour and supporting navigational channels with commensurate draft.
“Other factors include lower risk of encroachment of city development in the immediate future, connection to multimodal infrastructure for evacuation of cargo by road, rail and barge, government support to the investors with policies that will protect investments, presence of adequate supporting services and review of cargo clearance processes to support faster cargo evacuation and reduce dwell time.
“Both Badagry and Lekki have natural features for a port. Natural harbours have long been of great strategic naval and economic importance. They reduce or eliminate the need for breakwaters which would ordinarily cost a fortune to construct.