News Stories in 2nd Quarter 2007 Edition of DDH Magazine
APAPA QUAYS MAY COLLAPSE IF DREDGED TO 14 METRES… Expat. Surveyor
…How Age, Wrecks and Pollution Keep Lagos Habours From Best Form!
Terminal owners who are dreaming of deeper berths at the Apapa and Tin Can Island seaports in Lagos Nigeria may have a little longer to wait to realize their ambitions, if the information released by an expatriate surveyor who reviewed the state of the quays is anything to go by. Speaking to DDH in an exclusive interview, the expatriate surveyor, Capt Mario Sluiszen said that the Lagos seaports were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s with designs that mean that in 2007 to dredge them beyond the designed draught risks a collapse of the fenders and bollards where ships rest against the quay. And for the same reason, the heavy weights at quayside during port operations cannot be supported by the rock foundation which would have been dispersed with the incidence of dredging beyond their designed base. He recommended a redesign of the quays without which no extra depth than the original design can be achieved. The original draught design for the quays range mainly from 8m to 10m, with a few reaching 12m.Capt Mario was engaged by the Lagos Channel Management Ltd (LCM), one of the new habour maintenance joint ventures formed by the Nigerian Ports Authority in 2005. He joined the first set of expatriate staff, as the head surveyor, to start the LCM and undertook several tasks in the last 18 months on behalf of LCM. This makes him competent to comment authoritatively about the state of the Lagos seaports. In the course of his work, he was privy to data, charts and drawings related to the design and construction of both Apapa and Tin Can Island seaports. Thus, when he spoke to DDH about the operational limits of the two seaports, the master mariner was very much at home with the facts of the case.
On his job functions at LCM, Capt Mario, who said he had worked for various dredging outfits in Europe before his Nigerian engagement, showed off the result of a comprehensive soil test of the sea bed of the two ports under consideration: 24 samples of various soil formations in plastic bags were heaped in one side of his Apapa Dockyard office as proof of his hands-on experience studying the Lagos port system. He also supervised the removal, maintenance and re-positioning of many buoys that trail the Lagos habours, including lighting and fairway buoys. He said LCM put new beacons with solar panels whereas they did not exist or work well before now.
When he asked how he found the task personally, he spoke of mixed feelings about the Nigerian seaport situation, for which he foresaw promise but decried the lack of adequate managerial push to put policies and structures in place for the nation to command its full potential. He said this potential was far beyond regional and that Nigeria could easily take on a continental maritime hub position if only adequate brainpower and political will were deployed to the available resources. For example, Mario went about the waterways monitoring pollution of various kinds and wrecks obstructing the channels and wondered why there was a total lack of any responsible agency to undertake clean up of solid, oil and other wastes which members of the public and some maritime operators dump on the waters at will and with impunity.
Moreover, he showed DDH pictures of ships which where were abandoned along navigation channels until they broke up and fell into the water as wrecks. Even so, he said all wrecks so far identified continued to lie at the point of submersion and have not been removed as at press time due to lack of adequate procedural or enforcement protocols among the public agencies that should be responsible.
Some of the good things Capt Mario saw in Nigeria were her young population who he confessed lacked motivation and purposeful engagement. When asked about the young men who appeared with him in photographs of sea trips outside bar to gather buoys for repairs, he admitted that except for one of them, the rest were not full-time staff of LCM but casuals, engaged for the jobs immediately at hand. But when he noticed a tone of accusation by DDH in view of the good gospel of youth engagement he was preaching, he quickly cleared the air by saying that of course when more jobs come into the hands of LCM he foresaw more permanent engagement of the young men. But he said he personally looked after them well, played with them and largely was friendly with them and that they reciprocated the respect, so that their relationship was not like boss and servant but jolly friends. As a proof, he stressed that they all donned life jackets for the sea trips. Hear him, “All I ask them, can you swim, and are you willing to work. And they are. For me, I pick them from the streets, I pick them from everywhere, and I made something out of them. So, you can ask them how I work with them. That is one of the things… I’m very interested in human beings…as a person, am open and don’t like to hide anything…”
When DDH asked him what he taught them, he said he taught them “..GPS, global positioning satellite system, maintenance of buoys, how to pick buoys and drop buoys, how the current flows and how the swell affects the work. I know that working outside the bar is not easy, the swell is unpredictable, but you can reduce the risk by training the boys practically”. From DDH’s observation, 37-year old Mario is open and really didn’t hide anything, which is why he opened up on the unrealistic expectation of dredging the ports deeper in their present state. However, he went to great lengths to show that the accomplishments of LCM since inception could be used, if the authorities permit, to clean up the act of the NPA in terms of re-inventing the ports into modernity.
For example, pointing to a picture on his open laptop on the table, he said, “this is a wreck covered with sand”. The object, which was quite large, when scaled using the computer’s grid measurement, came to 40 metres in length. He informed that some wrecks they had encountered on the Lagos seabed were up to 120 metres in length and had been lying there for longer than anyone can remember. When asked how such wrecks were managed in advanced nations where they have cleaner environments, he said it was simply by renting equipment and organizing a removal by the responsible authorities. In the case of Lagos, he felt the local governments should be involved to enforce proper environmental disposal of refuse and that otherwise such refuse from the market places will keep being dumped into the lagoon.
This brought up a question about LCM’s claims that it deals with pollution monitoring. To what purpose is this, DDH asked? To which Capt Mario answered: “We record everything in the files and we have one pollution officer. He sends all his information to NPA, so that they know what is going on. It’s up to them to start some action, we can only advise. We have no power. If we had the power, we will do something about it because a plastic bag needs 200 years to disappear (degrade). Just a coke can needs 15 years to disappear. These are so sensitive and it’s been dumped for years. I have pictures that show dirt dumped 10-15 metres high because you see it above the water line but look what is underneath the water line”. There is no gainsaying the truth of Mario’s incisive observation as the published pictures of Lagos Island markets and their watersides are replete with mountains of garbage.
On the solutions to the problem, the seaman who said he trained for 8 years just to become a captain in Holland, said if Nigeria wanted to solve the problem of used water sachets, for example, they could be recycled. He identified other objects on the waters as including water hyacinths, cans, glass and metals, which he said, on the converse, held a lucrative opportunity for export to other countries that may find use for them, especially metal wrecks which abound on land and water in Nigeria. He argued that if exported, apart from making the environment cleaner, such an export industry could give jobs to young men and women and facilitate water transportation, if only the right governmental initiatives could be put in place.
Capt Mario also touched on the buoyage history of the Lagos seaports and their approach channels. He said this history was necessary because of various lapses in the system which cost whopping sums of money and disrupt the smoothness of marine activities. For example, he said after he had dropped 22 buoys in the water when LCM started operations, three months later, 70% of them were damaged by hit-and-run ships, trawlers, etc. He said the primary cause of this was the absence of a radar system to guide the vessels or control them, and there was no effective police system to keep an eye on happenings along the route to the open sea. But in Europe, as he said, once a ship hits a buoy, the radar system will activate and capture the picture of the accident and send same to the monitoring center which will prepare a bill and send along to the ship owners or chatterers. “But here, we just keep on repairing and maintaining…”, he lamented. He said the biggest offenders were fishing trawlers because many of their crew were not properly trained unlike crew aboard ocean going ships who were certificated. “Most fishermen here don’t have any certificates, never been to school. They come from a canoe and step on a fishing trawler and start fishing. This causes a lot of trouble”, he concluded.