FG To Review $150m Seaport Channel Management, Dredging Contracts

By

Isaac Anumihe

Channel

dredging and channel management are strategic port operations with security implications. It is against this backdrop that  every serious maritime nation takes control of them or make conscious efforts to continually build and increase local capacity in channel management not only to effectively be in charge of the companies, but to also consolidate the gains of port privatisation in the area of empowering Nigerians with the requisite skills.

However,  channel management requires skills in both offshore and onshore operations and full  complement of crews – deck and engine – are needed onboard the trailing suction hopper dredgers (TSHDs) and other specialised vessels/equipment dedicated to channel dredging.

Aware of the fact that it is the foreign joint venture partners that possess the technical wherewithal to drive the operation of the channel management companies, transferring their skills to Nigerians becomes imperative for building and increasing local capabilities.

So, in  2004, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA)  management in partnership with the private sector established the Lagos Channel Management Company (LCM), and the Bonny Channel Company  (BCC). The BCC  was established to create and maintain a safe navigational passage for all marine users to and in the Eastern Ports of Bonny Island, Onne, Okrika, and Port-Harcourt  while the Lagos Channel Management is saddled with the responsibility of dredging and maintaining  the  Lagos channels for the safe movement of vessels.

But the BCC went further to  deploy a team of over 100 young Nigerians amongst their staffers for training in Antwerp and London  to ensure that the company meets local content requirement in terms of skilled manpower.

The youths attended courses in  hydro/dredging,  hydrographic survey,  marine operations covering pilot board capacity building, pilot training and assistant harbour master/senior pilot training. In the engineering and technical fields; trainees were exposed to courses in advanced channel management and design, and enterprise resource planning (ERP). In the corporate department, participants studied Risk & Cost Benefit Analysis and Financial Systems Administration (FSA) Implementation, as well as Environmental Aspects of Dredging.

Aside their in-house staff, the Bonny Channel Company had way back since 2011 either directly conducted or sponsored local and international trainings for officers of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) with whom their staff had constant interface. This is with the aim of building synergy between the NPA and BCC staff towards seamless operation. Nearly 100 NPA officers were trained in courses ranging from Junior Pilot and Senior Pilot refresher courses at Fleetwood Nautical Campus UK; Harbour Master International Diploma parts 2 and 3 courses at Lagos; Emergency Response Planning Workshop, Lagos; Nigerian Pilotage Board Capacity Building Workshop, Liverpool, UK; and Workshop on Port and Dredge Risk Management for Port Engineers – Parts 1 and 2, Lagos.

The BCC has also pledged to support the NPA in establishing the Port Training Institute and to provide  50 per cent of the fund required for the purchase and installation of the simulator for the centre.

On its part, the Lagos Channel Management Company appears to have concentrated more on hands-on training of cadets onboard its dredging vessels and in workshops and fabrication yards in its domain in line with the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO’s) Standards of Training Certification and Watch-keeping (STCW) ’95 and 2010.

In its efforts to promote training, the International Association of Dredging companies recently held a training workshop in Singapore which included top officials from the NPA and various Ports and Channel managers from across the world. The goal of the training was to provide decision-makers of Port Management and Public Authorities with practical knowledge, in order to create a better understanding of the requirements of the contracting parties of dredging and reclamation projects.

Notwithstanding the achievements recorded by these channel companies at training Nigerians, there is still need  to increase local training for capacity building in channel management, for obvious reasons.

 First and foremost, Nigeria’s port privatisation is a fait accompli. Since 2006, the ports had been set on a path of growth trajectory as investments in existing port infrastructure have risen progressively along with increased prospects of green ports development, notably the Lekki,  Badagry, Ibom and Bonny deep seaports. Once these ports take off, they will certainly require channel management services, and the odds are that they will come under the domain of either of the two existing channel management companies instead of the NPA contracting a completely new joint venture partner to manage them. This is because taking on a new joint venture partner will cost government more in terms of funding and other additional responsibilities, which government is likely to avoid, given the present state of the economy.  

If this postulation is anything to go by,  then the existing channel management companies will have to expand capacities which means more Nigerians to be employed and trained in ship and shore operations that are required for efficient channel management. In like manner, as the scope of responsibilities of the channel management companies expand, it will spur the growth of third party vendor companies, suppliers and consultants who have to be trained along the channel company employees to work together in synergy.

Given the status of the Bonny Channel Company and the Lagos Channel Management Company as legal duopolies, and the fact that the companies operate in a non-contestable market with absolutely no external competition to their services, it is safe to assume that the companies have the clout – financial, political, and otherwise – to develop through training, local capacity to meet present and future needs in channel management in Nigeria.

The starting point is for these companies to begin to patronise maritime training and allied institutions at home if they have hitherto not been doing so, and to increase their patronage of the institutions if they already have.

By executing training memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with institutions like the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron; the Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR), Nigerian Navy College of Engineering, and universities and polytechnics offering specialised courses in dredging and channel management, amongst others. The channel companies can train not a few of their own staff, their vendors and contractors, and their NPA partners.

Though it is a sad reality that many of these training institutes, colleges and universities hardly ever have adequate funding to procure the facilities/equipment (like a training vessel for instance) to conduct proper trainings, support from the channel management companies will go a long way towards alleviating the training institutions’ needs. Beside this, investing in home-based training will save a lot  of scarce foreign currency which can be  utilised to increase  capacity . Finally, investing in local training will boost capacity of the training institutions themselves which can spur them to embark on train-the-trainer courses abroad for their own personnel to be able to deliver satisfactorily. This is hardly a difficult feat to accomplish for training institutions given that they already have the solid and tested platforms on which to operate.

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