NPA redefines barge operations in Nigerian ports

A barge laden with containers leaving Tin Can Island Port, Lagos

Two days after today, precisely September 1, 2021, barge operators will stop littering the ports. The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) says barges shall from this date be electronically called into the ports only when they have cargo to pick or discharge.  

NPA is also poised to review the modalities for the registration of barge operating licenses with emphasis on operators meeting the minimum safety standards ((MSS) of their barges. Failure to meet this requirement, NPA said that an operator will be barred from using the channel.

These provisions are part of the new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) introduced by the acting Managing Director of NPA, Mohammed Bello Koko to bring sanity and standards into cargo barging in Nigerian ports.  

Mohammed Bello Koko announced the introduction of the new SOP to members of Barge Operators of Nigeria (BOAN) who paid a working visit to him at NPA’s head office in Lagos last week.

Under the new regulation, an electronic call-up system is being developed for deployment for barge operations in which barges will remain at their anchor until they are called to pick or discharge cargo. This is aimed at streamlining their movements to reduce congestion and possible threat to ocean-going vessels. 

The NPA is set to capture a comprehensive profile of all barge operators, which will highlight the carriers’ corporate name, to make for easy identification, especially in line with efforts to check the deployment of dilapidated barges that are in a poor state and do not meet the minimum standards for barges and tugboats.

The NPA boss told the barge operators that the government has instituted a binding tariff scheme payable to NPA as well as to the operators. “There would be a harmonised interactive session (berthing meetings) between the barge operators and the relevant designated Port Managers for specific areas where information sharing would be prioritised accordingly,” he said.

To create relief for the barge operators, the NPA Chief Executive advised all terminal operators not to demand the collection of a 20 million naira bank bond, with a promise to liaise with the relevant government agencies for a downward review of prevailing charges on the carriage of Containers. 

Other provisions are, on communication, the installation of acceptable UHF Radio communication devices, as well as navigational lights onboard crafts, which will be among the critical mandatory requirements for operators by September 1 to ensure safe and secured operational services.

To further ensure safety in the navigation of barges, Tug masters are required to possess Pilot Exemption Certificate (PEC) even as night operations are abolished while double loading of barges is prohibited to prevent damage to the quayside. 

Additionally, the barge operators who have been operating for close to three years without paying any tariff would now be required to make payments to the NPA, thereby generating more revenue for the government.

Koko solicited the collaboration of stakeholders in ensuring that best practices are strictly adhered to in this respect, informing stakeholders that amongst the expected requirements for barge operators, there would be class and personnel certification in order to ensure that they are seaworthy.

He identified efficient barge operational systems for easy evacuation as a panacea for port congestion, as this would ensure that regulatory standards are strictly adhered to, warning that no illegality would be tolerated any longer.

The NPA MD said that his management is strategising for effective partnership with barge operators in the area of training to enable them to acquire more knowledge on the profession which is expected to impact positively on general port operations if the regulatory standards are strictly adhered to.

On the need to deploy information communication technology( ICT) into barge operations, the NPA Chief Executive informed stakeholders that management will interface with the operators through notable NPA digital communication platforms and relevant divisions as well as personnel for a harmonised and more efficient single window operations, which is expected to stimulate operational efficiency.

Bello Koko stated that the introduction of the SOP is a new era in barge operations and all operators are required to key into these regulatory provisions. 

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