HISTORY, said the reports, was made on Sunday, August 15, at the Onne Port in Rivers State. The reason: a leading container terminal operator, the West Africa Container Terminal (WACT), received the largest container ship ever to berth at any Nigerian port. The huge ship, Maersk Stadelhorn, boasting an overall length of 300 metres and a 48.2 metre beam, has the capacity to carry about 10,000 twenty equivalent units (TEU) of containers. Previously, the regular container ships calling at Nigerian ports were those in the class of WAFMAX, with a maximum capacity of 4,500 TEU. And so officialdom quickly rolled out the drums. “We are excited at this historic achievement. We thank the Nigerian Ports Authority for dredging the channels and for professionally piloting the vessel to the port. Without the effort, support and approval of NPA, this would not have been possible,” Country Manager of APM Terminals Nigeria, Klaus Laursen, enthused.
In addition to the NPA’s support, Laursen said, the huge investment by APM Terminals in WACT also made it possible for the terminal to upgrade its services with modern cargo handling equipment to be able to handle very large container carriers. “The feat recorded here at WACT is impressive. The significance of this development is that even the ports in Lagos will now have to try and catch up with the new standards set by WACT. It is also important to mention that this is happening at this critical time when the economies of the world are facing a lot of challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a mark of confidence in the Nigerian economy. We are saying that in spite of COVID-19, the Nigerian economy is strong and will continue to be buoyant. The COVID-19 challenges are temporary, and the economy will certainly record positive growth in the nearest future,” Laursen noted.
On his part, the Managing Director, West Africa Container Terminal, Aamir Mirza, stated: “Over the last four years, we have continued the journey to develop our business by investing in our people and container handling equipment and our handling this vessel is in line with our vision to make WACT the best performing container terminal in West Africa.” Mirza added that by successfully handling the 10,000 TEU vessel, the terminal operator had “once again proved to all our customers that WACT is capable of competing with other ports in Nigeria and West Africa”. The Commercial Manager of WACT, Noah Sheriff, noted that the terminal had become the gateway to eastern Nigeria and a strong alternative to ports in Lagos over the years with the multimillion dollar investment made in information technology and modern cargo handling equipment. His words: “This is a positive development for Onne Port and the entire business community because large vessels come with many benefits for authorities, liner customers, and landside customers. Before now, it would be difficult to imagine that such a humongous ship could berth in Nigeria, but here we are with the ship at our berth. We must thank the Nigerian Ports Authority for the dredging of the channel to make it possible for this ship to come in. The NPA managing director has indeed been very supportive.”
Following the feat, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Chukwuemeka Eze, applauded President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, for always placing national interests above personal interests. But we are clinking no glasses over the latest development. In case the current tenants in the corridors of power have forgotten, the country wasn’t always a dumping ground. It was Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s policy, when he managed Nigeria’s finances, that no ship coming to Nigeria should return empty. And so we must ask: what did Maersk Stadelhorn take back home as it made its majestic exit from Nigeria’s shores? What did the great ship take back home that added to Nigeria’s GDP? Nigerian importers, reports say, are forced to pay double because ships coming to Nigeria take nothing back. For how long will Nigeria remain a dumping ground for other nations? What’s wrong with being a producer nation?
We are not excited by the current one-way traffic: the country must embrace production. It has the potentiality, human and material, to be a production and manufacturing hub. It should live up to the responsibilities of Black Africa’s most populous nation. There will be a lot to celebrate when it does.
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