There is an uneasy calm in the port community as the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has stopped vessels carrying pipes and other oil and gas related cargoes from berthing at terminals other than Intels terminal in Onne, Rivers State.
NPA’s order is contained in a circular number EP/AGM/OPTS/034/ dated March 18, 2013. The NPA circular was said to have been issued based on a letter with reference number T. 0160/8.103/C2/T4/431 dated July 25, 2012 it received from the Federal Ministry of Transport, Abuja directing it to ensure that all vessels carrying oil and gas related cargoes are made to berth only at Intels terminal.
General Manager of one of the terminal operating firms at the Rivers Port Complex, Port Harcourt told SHIPS & PORTS DAILY that for over six months, vessels laden with pipes and other oil related products scheduled to berth at the terminal have been forcefully diverted to Intels by NPA without explanation.
“They are promoting monopoly. This is unfair and they are not bothered at all. We terminal has been almost grounded as the few vessels that we are supposed to get are diverted to Intels. We have made all sorts of appeal and asked for explanation over this illegality but no one is talking to us,” he said.
Last year, one of the terminal operators at the Rivers Port Complex, the Ports and Terminal Operators Nigeria Limited (PTOL), which has been adversely affected by the NPA order, took its case to the National Assembly consequent upon which the House of Representatives Committee on Marine Transport directed the management of NPA to “maintain the status quo” in its dealings with the concessionaire.
Chairman of the House Committee on Marine Transport, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi made it clear that there was no justification for placing restriction on the type of cargo or vessel calling at PTOL Terminal. He said no terminal operator in the Eastern Zone of the country has monopoly of any cargo.
Ugwuanyi specifically told the management of NPA during a public hearing on the issue last year that PTOL could handle all types of cargo as it was licensed as a multi-purpose terminal approved to handle general cargo of any type, bulk cargo and containers as stated in the lease agreement it signed with the Federal Government.
The House Marine Committee also warned NPA not to disrupt the operations of PTOL.
Intels had reportedly claimed, during the public hearing, that its terminals were the only ones given statutory approval to receive what it called “oil and gas cargoes”.
PTOL Managing Director, Mrs. Elizabeth Ovbude, wondered why the implementation of the directive was limited to the ports located in the Eastern Zone and why such argument is coming up now after almost seven years of port concession.
A maritime lawyer, Mr. Mike Igbokwe, (SAN), in his contribution at the public hearing, also flawed the position of Intels even as he urged the House leadership to do everything possible to protect the interest of other terminal operators in the Eastern Zone.
He argued that the removal of certain types of cargo from discharging at Port Harcourt Port will negate the huge investments made by other terminal operators and make it impossible for them to meet their financial obligations to the Federal Government and financial institutions from which funds were raised to develop the terminals.
He also expressed fears that the restriction of cargo to Intels will lead to the reduction of labour force, closure of various companies that currently provide services to terminal operators in Port Harcout port, as well as waste of port equipment and decay in infrastructure.
When contacted on phone on Friday, Ovbude said NPA was yet to comply with the House of Representatives’ directive. She said oil and gas related vessels were still barred from her terminal.
“Nothing has changed. In fact just last week we had a vessel that came into our berth but they did not allow it to discharge insisting that it must go to Onne. The ship did not want to go to Onne and decided to remain at our terminal but she could not discharge,” the former NPA Assistant General Manager stated.
Investigation revealed that many consignees are not favourably disposed to discharging at Intels terminal because of high charges. Intels reportedly imposes six times the charges collected by other terminals.
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