Our barges are seaworthy and cannot submerge, BOAN tells former NAGAFF President

Dr. Bunmi Olumekun

Our barges cheaper than trucks

The Vice Chairman of Barge Operators Association of Nigeria (BOAN), Dr. Bunmi Olumekun has countered Dr. Eugene Nweke, former President of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), over his claim that barges being used by BOAN members are rickety and not seaworthy and may possibly submerge and cause a colossal loss to Nigerian importers and exporters.

In an interview with PortNews while reacting to the position of Dr. Nweke, Olumekun asked Nweke to cross-check his fact as all the barges being operated by BOAN members are seaworthy, certified, and registered by the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) before commencing operations and cannot submerge.  

Dr. Eugene Nweke, a leading freight forwarder, in a statement had foreseen possible submerging of container barges on Lagos and other port creeks because many of the barges presently in operations are not structurally and technologically fit to sail.   

To avoid this and save billions of investments of Nigerian importers, Dr. Eugene Nweke, a former National President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), has advised the Nigerian Shippers‘Council and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to begin re-inspection and reclassification of barges in operation now.

Nweke noted that the nation’s port industry has had enough challenges which, for long, have defiled logical solutions and called on the industry regulators to act fast to save the industry of any imminent safety danger which the rickety barges and their owners have posed. 

“Here again, while the ailing challenges confronting our ports and access roads to them seem to have defiled administrative solutions, it has however opened a fiesta of opportunity for barge operators in container operations (transfer) without a recourse to safety and security standards and cost implications. Today, Nigeria‘s port creek has become a beehive if not a haven for rickety and non-seaworthy barges operations. Hence, the need for proper barge re-inspection and reclassification, and firm regulation by concern authorities cannot be overemphasized.

“What is prevalent in the sector presently is nothing but an all-comers affair like in the case of any other sector including the freight forwarding sector devoid of proper regulation. Craft deployed for such critical operations is too old and rickety.

“Failingly, sooner than later, cases of barge submerge and loss of investment may become a new order capable of posing an operational challenge in the industry. The Nigerian Shippers‘Council must not only collaborate with the NIMASA to request and carryout a re-inspection and reclassification exercise on all barges plying our port creeks but ensure the effectiveness/readiness of its rescue operations/apparatus in the face of distress,“said Nweke.

He maintained that many barge operators who ventured into the business for profitization and monopoly sake lack expertise and hide the service component of their freight billings.

Nweke charged the Nigerian Shippers‘Council to determine and ensure that the competitive element of their operations and services are incorporated in their freight components and must set standard operating procedures for barge operation in the industry.

“Blanket freight charges as obtained in the barge operations are a mere rip off. There is an urgent need for the Nigerian Shippers‘Council to reposition and properly regulate the barge operations as a deserving sector of the maritime industry.

“Unfortunately, some port operators seem to have signed an MoU purely for profitization sake, not on safety and security sake. Port terminal operators have never taken any meaningful step to ensure the sea and operational worthiness of the crafts when engaging the barge operators,” the former NAGAFF President counselled.

Olumekun said that Nweke lacks knowledge about barge operations claiming that BOAN barges are rickety and could submerge, saying that their barges in operations are seaworthy and complied with the rules as set by NIWA although he did not rule out there are some illegal operators who are not registered.

According to him, ‘’Nweke lacks knowledge about barge operation; he should double-check his fact before foreseeing submerging of barges because our barges are certified by NIWA. They are seaworthy although we cannot rule out some illegal operators who use rickety barges but not BOAN members.’’

He maintained that barge operation has come to stay in Nigeria. ‘’All around the world, especially maritime countries, barges are being used to convey cargo from the ports and Nigeria, as a maritime nation, cannot be left behind and is big enough to use barge for conveying her cargo. It is the way to go and has come to stay in Nigeria.’’

In terms of charges, Olumekun said that barge is cheaper than a truck, faster, with no traffic impediment and no area boy to molest barge on the water, unlike roads. He noted that it takes an average of two to three weeks before a truck could access Tin Can Island Port but not so with a barge.

He noted that a barge operator charges N300,000 to convey a container from Tin Can Island Port to Ikorodu and from here, a trucker collects N200,000 to take the container to any part of Lagos around Ikorodu and making it N500,000 compared to a trucker would charge N1.5 directly from Tin Can to Ikeja or Ikorodu. ‘’Our charges are very cheap. This is the easiest and cheapest way to move cargo out of the ports,’’ said Olumekun.

He called importers and exporters to utilize barges to move their cargo in and out of the ports because it is cheap, fast and time-saving.  

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