Customs agents in the country have appealed to the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) not to dismantle the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA), but get a competent security outfit to man the area if OMS Limited, the company manning the area currently was allegedly not doing what the authority wants.
Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, the president of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), which is the umbrella body of customs agents in Nigeria, Mr. Increase Uche, said dismantling the SAA might send the wrong signal to shipping companies.
According to him, "Removing the SAA may fuel insecurity in our waters; we are not indicting the Nigerian Navy or saying that the NPA has no right to raise alarm if they feel Nigeria's security is being threatened. If there is intelligence on that the government should investigate and take action.
"Our position and that concerned shipping operators is that we want a situation whereby there is decorum, we want to see that our waters is well secured so that the freight cost payable cannot add to the cost of doing business in our ports. It may interest you to know that a container of cargos leaving Nigeria to Europe or even Far East pay less than $1000.
"But import into Nigeria even from South Africa cost as much as $2000. If it is going to Eastern ports in Nigeria it will cost $3000. Do you know why that of the eastern port is high; it is because vessels stay up to 4 weeks at anchorage before accessing the berth. This exposes vessels to attacks because no vessel that come into Nigeria stays more than three days before they come to berth.
"To us the practitioners, what we are advocating is that government should look at the issue critically. If the NPA is agitating that such measures should be terminated, let us look at it holistically and ensure that the government is not being shortchanged."
He added that after investigation, if the NPA finds out that the OMS was exploiting Nigerians, it should cancel their contract.
Concerned about the threat to national security and the cost of doing business at the country's seaport, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) had notified the Nigerian Navy of its decision to dismantle the Secure Anchorage Area, operated on behalf of the Navy by a private company, OMS Limited. NPA insisted that the security of the country's waterways was the statutory responsibility of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Marine Police, and Nigerian Navy, which must all ensure a safe and secure Nigeria territorial waters.
The move by NPA was been hailed by stakeholders in the maritime sector, who claimed the initiative was timely to stave off a financial burden that the consulting company had brought on them.
A Secure Anchorage Area is an area outside the Lagos port that the Nigerian Navy, with a private company, has defined as a secure place where vessels can anchor safely from the threat of pirate attack.
THISDAY investigation reveals that vessels were charged $2,500 for the first day at the anchorage and $1,500 for subsequent days.
Data obtained by THISDAY also revealed that it takes between 28 and 30 days for a vessel to exit the anchorage. According to vessel traffic numbers obtained from the NPA, 1,666 vessels called at the Lagos ports alone in a quarter and a minimum of 55 per cent of vessels that call at the Lagos port stays at the SAA.
Worried by this development, the Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, had directed the NPA to write a letter to the Chief of Naval Staff to request that the Navy stopped the operation of the facility. The NPA, in the letter, stated that the revenue generated from the operation at a charge of $1,500 per vessel per day from 2014 to date was neither remitted to it nor the federal government.
The NPA had argued that the patrol boat, NNS Dorina P101, as mother vessel, and the interceptor vessels, NNS Agede P258 and NNS Torie P259, were all purchased by it for the Nigerian Navy to patrol the anchorage and not to be designated for use at a facility that has no relationship with it.
In the letter dated October 9, 2019, which was obtained by THISDAY, NPA stated, "Sequel to your letter ref: NHQ/CNS/015/54/00/Vol.X111/695 of January 2018 to the Honourable Minister of Transportation giving the background to your involvement with the creation and operation of the Secure Anchorage for vessels by OMSL, the Honourable Minister had directed that a letter be written to your service to request that you stop the operation of this facility for the following reasons listed below:
"One, by virtue of Port Act (1954), an Anchorage Area is an integral part of NPA statutory responsibility while NIMASA, Marine Police and Nigerian Navy ensure a safe and secure Nigeria territorial waters. Two, the Secure Anchorage Area (SAA) (Centre Point 06 17'30N/003 12'00E) established by OMSL is located within the port limit, which should be strictly under the management and control of the NPA.
"Three, it is established that vessels are directed and regulated to this facility by OMSL, who NPA does not have contractual agreement or other with. However, the Navy has a Memorandum of Understanding with OMSL and is providing security to the anchorage. Four, the continued operation of this facility by a private entity could pose security threat to the nation."
NPA further stated that the operations of SAA added up to high cost for vessels coming to Nigeria through the charge of $1,500 per vessel per day.
It said in the letter to the Navy, "To this end, you are graciously requested to stop the operation of the SAA while a new framework - nearing conclusion - is being put in place to be managed by NPA in collaboration with your service and other government agencies that are critical to the operation of the anchorage."