Water-tight Security: The Looming Danger In Barge Operations
Barge operations have come to stay in Lagos as it is aimed to aid trade facilitation in the seaports following the failure of the road access to the ports. However, to what extent the federal government is prepared to address the security implications of barge operations as a subset of the entire national security architecture is yet to be determined. Roland Ekama x-rays the dangers inherent in barge operations on the waterways without water-tight security arrangements to safeguard cargo on transit.
In the last three years, transporting cargoes from the seaports to other parts of Lagos State has yielded the desired result to the expectation of shippers and freight agents. But improper security checks on such movement and enforcement of expected standards continue to raise concerns.
To overcome the nagging bottleneck investors face on the ports access routes, the resort to the use of barges to ferry their cargoes remains inevitable.
The adoption of barges as evacuation model was earlier introduced by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) in order to reduce congestion at the ports. Since then, there has been a reduction in the number of days spent by stranded vessels at the anchorage. The Barge Operators Association of Nigeria (BOAN) has confirmed that many of her members now prefer moving their containers through water to and from the ports.
To confirm that the business is indeed lucrative, political office holders are now indicating interest to capture it. But with the rush being experienced, what should be of concern to the public is safety, enforcement and security of the cargoes on- board the crafts.
From the south- south region of the country, reports say cases of attacks and cargo vandalism are relatively high. As this subsists, there are worries that it should be promptly curtailed so as not to have a backlash in the Lagos area. Consignments in question need proper examination to and fro destinations to avoid hauling substances whose presence offend national security.
Recently, at a function put together by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) , it was gathered that a large number of harmful drugs sail through the waterways due to the poor security presence at sea. As if to corroborate this, the beachcombing arm of the Nigeria Customs Service recently made a remarkable seizure of cannabis worth billions of naira.
Aside the harmful substances intercepted by regulatory authorities, it is also on record that small arms and light weapons have been impounded by operatives on waters despite lack of platforms to boost their morale.
Aside the examination by customs officers at the mother ports, there is the need for the Federal Government to assign designated authorities whose responsibilities should be to ensure no security breaches of consignments movement on the waterways.
More jetties are springing up daily for this kind of business yet the relevant authorities have failed to take drastic action to know the real reasons for the increase. The Federal Government needs to capture a strong database of who is who in barge operations in Nigeria so as to be in a position to know those using it to perpetrate anti-economic acts.
Personnel of the Nigeria Customs Service and other security agencies need to be seconded to the barges during the movement on the waterways.
Speaking on barge operations, spokesman,Tin Can Island Command of the Nigeria Customs Service, Uche Ejesieme, said it was an interventionist idea conceived by the Area Controller, MBA Musa. He argued that for obvious reasons, all other government agencies at the port level are supposed to be fully involved in the process. Ejesieme explained that personnel of the service are attached to the barges from the seaports down to the jetties for onward delivery to ensure that the cargoes are secure while on water.
Because they license the operators, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) have a stake in the area of enforcement and security.
Safety of cargoes is now a major concern. A large number of consignments on barges are not properly position aboard. Investigations reveal that the problem has to do with the quality of tug boats and barges being used in cargo evacuation at the seaports. Some of the tugboats attached to the barges develop engine problem midway and in turn cause delay even as the consignments are at high risk of falling overboard.
Some of the jetties where the consignments are designated to berth lack the appropriate handling equipment to facilitate trade. Besides, there is no regulatory agency that monitors the sea-worthiness of the barges for safety reasons.
Some of these barges are unfit and incapable of lifting consignments from the ports down to off- dock facilities or jetties.
This has led to worries about the level of security barges provide while transporting cargoes from point A to B. Are the cargoes insured? If yes who pays the premium?
The recently damaged quay apron of Port concessionaire, ENL Consortium by a barge operator speaks volume of future occurrence if measures are put in place to avert such disaster.
ENL Consortium expressed concerns on the suspension of Roll On Roll Off barge operations at its facilities explained that some of the RORO barges lacked adequate ramp equipment to aid the craft berth properly at the facility which in turn calls for concern by regulatory agencies to be proactively involved for the safety reasons.
Though Barrister Boye Uzamot , counsel to ENL said management of the Nigeria Ports Authority( NPA), responded swiftly to fix the affected quay apron damaged by a RORO barge at the facility, the damage inherent in this could halt port or terminal operational activities if the situation was worst then what obtained at the facility recently.
Uzamot who reiterated that barge operations was still obtainable and effective at the terminal adding that the port concessionaire has no choice but to suspend that of RORO .
He maintained that the conventional barges were functional and the terminal accept such barges but can no longer entertain any craft that has trucks laden on it for safety precautionary reasons .
The Legal Adviser explained that the damaged portion of the quay is near completion affirming that safety of cargoes and lives must be paramount despite issues confronting the suspension.
Also, it is observed that safety of consignments on barges is being compromised. Some barges are double – stacked. At the end, they lose balance following tide fluctuations. Often times, the consignments end up falling into water.
In 2019, NIWA raised the alarm of some number of containers on-board the craft falling off straight into the waters in Lagos. The agency bemoaned the use of substandard tug boats and barges during cargo evacuation by barge operators from the Apapa port to Ikorodu and Epe. stating that many containers are falling into the Lagos lagoon. Due to This anomaly, it said, poses a grave danger for waterway users.
According to Engr Sarat Braimah, the NIWA Lagos Area Manager, “Due to the congestion at our ports which was caused by the Apapa traffic gridlock, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) called us for a meeting and informed us that they have given some people license to lift cargoes by barges using our inland waterways. The routes for cargo evacuation by barges are Apapa to Ikorodu and Apapa to Epe. We were happy with the NPA initiative because having all containers leave the port by road is crippling our port system.
“From our investigation, we found out that the problem has to do with the quality of tug boats and barges being used in cargo evacuation at our seaports.
She appealed to investors interested in moving cargoes by barges to do it right so as not to transfer the problem on the roads to the waterways.
Monitoring of the consignments has not been properly defined by the government to know which of the agencies is fully in charge of securing them. Again, the level examination on the consignments before onward movement via the waterways has not been spelt out by any designated authority since inception of the business.
For the government to get it right on adequate policing of the barges in transit, there is the need to clearly define who takes the lead role in monitoring the movement of consignments via barges against the backdrop of compromise on national security and proliferation of some arms and light weapons.
The lack of scanners at the seaports and absence of 100% physical examination of cargoes may further create more problems for Nigerians if the consignments are improperly scrutinized before exiting the ports through the waterways.
Multiple sources also confirmed to Monarchs news that the bargers have commenced night operations on the movement of cargoes from the seaports. Aside the threats involved in the night journey of goods, security implications would be alarming as it would serve as a window to perpetrate evil. The Lagos waters lack lightening facilities. No security presence at night on patrol to monitor or checkmate activities of the operators, thereby leaving vacuum open for illegalities. Is the government prepared to cope?