THE 3RD BIGGEST DREDGER IN THE WORLD IS NOW DREDGING THE BONNY CHANNEL: HOW COME?
The Pearl River, the third biggest dredger in the world, which is now working at the Bonny river in River State is actually blazing a trail! It’s proprietors, Bonny Channel Company (BCC), call it the biggest dredger to work in Africa. Face it, though Nigeria may be having teething developmental problems, political and socio-economic, she remains the biggest potential force to reckon with in Africa. And some day soon, when some recent prophecies come to pass, it will be a nation of choice in the world. So, the news of this dredging record is actually the tip of the iceberg! The story is somewhat captivating because in the array of interviews that support our search for what makes dredging tick in the Niger Delta, certain hidden aspects of the profession have come out which will interest a wide array of our readers across the social spectrum. This feature on the activities of BCC reveals some of the problems of a well-endowed nation as she struggles to emerge. The aspect of how she is perceived by the international community which supplies men and materiel for harnessing its critical industries like oil and gas is fully exposed in the responses of our interviewees. If the nation’s leaders had the time, these are issues well worth considering…but then, again the dynamics of developmental politics may preclude a full digestion. Nevertheless, there is promise in the fact that the robustness of debate in today’s Nigeria’s parliament gives some hope that these revelations will form part of future constructive engagement in the sector.
Bonny Channel Company is a special purpose vehicle formed by the joint venture of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and Dredging International (DI) for maintaining the Bonny River which is a critical nerve in haulage of gas to the international market. The present stint of the big dredger there is capital dredging of the river, including some expansion of the channel. The dredger began work in September and is due to maintain activities for between six to nine months. It is expected that not less than 14m cubic metres of spoil would be evacuated from the place of assignment and dumped at a site about 11km away in the Atlantic Ocean. Pearl River is a 1994-built trailing suction dredger, 182 mm length and 28m breadth. It is manned by about 30 crew and can move 35,000 tons in one loading to the spoil ground.
Covering this story has taken the better part of one year, till the time came due. The logistics of how the dredger begins the huge Bonny dredging was taking much of the time of newly-arrived fill-in general manager of the Bonny Channel Company, Mr Xavier Cordier, at the time DDH began gathering materials and information for the story on this particular dredge activity. For one thing, the dredger would be working in the heartland of the Niger Delta where intense communal ferment is being frantically tackled by the newly elected President Umaru Yar’adua federal government. As DDH gathered, the host community needed to be settled in an amicable way for the dredger to peacefully settle down to its heavy dredging schedule. In addition, as Mr Cordier pointed out in our interview discussions, the logistics of putting such a big ship to operation demanded all available hands to be on deck, and BCC was structured to be a nimble organization with few staff members. However, he granted us an interview into the peculiar demands of managing the project. As already mentioned, reading in between the lines, one comes to grasp with quite a few salient aspects of the joint venture’s operations, on the one hand, and the diversity of the occupation like international ramification of costs, pricing and even dredging methods. While Mr Cordier took on generalities, mostly, Mr Daodu Olusegun, the assistant general manager, (technical) answered most of the technical questions. Excerpts:
Xavier Cordier's Interview
DDH: We have seen your new dredger working at Bonny now and it seems all is going well with your operations for now?
Xavier: Yes, but there is still some other works in the pipeline because the agreement is until 2013, something like that.
DDH: There was this other question I had whether BCC can do work for third parties..?
Xavier: Yes we can and I think there is a need for it. Because at the moment we just focus on the Bonny channel and Bonny river but during the last board meeting our chairman clearly indicated that there was the need for us to diversify the work to third parties as well.
DDH: Yes because one may say that the name Bonny Channel is a little restricted and small for a wholesome company…?
Xavier: Initially, the plan was to focus on the Bonny river and Bonny channel. But more and more we have to look at other directions.
DDH But if you were to focus on the Bonny channel and river, is there sufficient work for a company like BCC?
Xavier: Of course, there is sufficient work because of the siltation of the river, the siltation of the channel. There is need for capital dredging as well as maintenance dredging to keep the channel at the nominal depths and to allow all the vessels going to Onne harbour and Port Harcourt harbour to have safe conditions. What we are doing now is to increase the depth and the width of the channel because there is an LNG Train 6 and Train 7 coming, so there are more ships coming to Bonny gas terminal, that’s why capital dredging is needed. But still we have two other harbours there to look after which are Onne and Port Harcourt, and these harbours are important as well and we need to maintain the river and the channels. We have placed there a lot of navigation aids and buoys and other devices to let all the ships coming from offshore to Onne harbour and Port Harcourt arrive in safe conditions. But we have now the big LPG terminal here and NLNG is pushing to have the channel enabled to have big ships and more LNG ships come in, so that’s why we have the capital (dredging). There are two separate targets: the maintenance dredging and the capital dredging. And on top of that, we have the wreck removal because there are still a lot of wrecks in the channel. If there are more and more vessels coming, there will be a need to remove more and more wrecks as well.
DDH: Have you people been able to remove a lot of wrecks?
Xavier: Yes, we have done a lot. The first year, that is 2004 and 2005, we removed quite a lot. And since that time the salvage vessel has been demobilized. So we have planned to remove some of the wrecks maybe next year, 2008. It’s something that we have to see with NPA what the needs are. This is a very costly project, capital dredging. At USD60m, that’s a big cost. Even if NLNG is pre-financing the project, at the end of the day there is less revenue for NPA because they have to pay the dredging contractor. Still there is the ongoing project like the maintenance dredging, the maintenance of the buoys, the maintenance of the river (navigation aids), etc.
DDH: Does this mean that all the dredgers that you have must be hired?
Xavier: No. The technical partner, Dredging International, belongs to Decloedt Group. Decloedt is a partner of Dredging International. This ship belongs to Decloedt.
DDH: But to bring it to work for BCC, it will still be under hire?
Xavier: Yes, because it belongs to the technical partner. NPA is in TCMC (The Channel Management Company) and Decloedt and DI are part of TCMC, so the vessel belongs to TCMC. That’s the way it’s organized.
DDH: What kind of qualification, track record or experience made Dredging International to be the chosen partner in this kind of joint venture?
Xavier: There are very few international dredging companies. Basically, there are four of them, while two are Belgians two are Dutch. Dredging International is one of them. Jan de Nul and Dredging International are Belgians Royal Boskalis and Van Oord are Dutch. So they are four big players and actually the market is booming, there are needs everywhere around the world. In the Middle East, you know, the big projects there are artificial islands; most of the vessels are busy in the Middle East at the moment because that’s where the activity is booming. So, it’s very difficult to get vessels mobilized to Nigeria. We are very fortunate that we could get the Pearl River because it’s a huge ship, it’s a very expensive ship to operate and for the company, coming to Nigeria… Nigeria is what they call a risky country, so you have to make sure you get return on investment…
DDH: Does that aspect up the cost because of the risk involved?
Xavier: Yeah, yeah…
DDH: In another country, what would the cost profile be approximately?
Xavier: I don’t have the figure in mind. The cost of such a vessel is thousands of dollars per day, I can’t tell you the exact figure, but it’s huge money involved. It is per day (payment) whether the ship is working or not. But here we have a lot of possible issues with the communities, for instance and with stuff like that (laughter…).
DDH: Of course, but when you say the ship is expensive to operate, what exactly do you mean by that?
Xavier: Because we have the costs in Nigeria which are higher than in another place. The fuel is expensive, manpower is expensive, all the special measures we have to take to secure the ship, etc. So these are all parameters we have to take into account which are not necessarily needed in other parts of the world.
DDH: You mean that fuel and labour are more expensive in Nigeria?
Xavier: Oh, there are places where they are less expensive. I would not say that is the main issue but they are part of it and there are a lot of other security issues.
DDH: Also you are saying it is hard to bring ships to Nigeria. Is it because of the security alone or are there other issues?
Xavier: In the Middle East where the big projects are, you can have a ship like that busy for two, three years or further. So, for the company, it is security for the company as well because after two, three years we send the ship back. Here we are talking about six to nine months contract for this ship, and then if it were somewhere else that’s okay. You know there’s some political aspects to consider why you send ships to this place or to that place.
DDH: One of your points appear strong, that if it were a place where the ship is engaged on a contract for two, three years contract it’s much more attractive than a six to nine-month stint….
Xavier: And the main problem we have here is that okay we are working for government/NPA. It’s very easy to work with in the sense that if they decide that okay we are going to ask NLNG (anything), this is possible because NPA has a lot of influence. But on the other hand, the payment is not always coming in time. (General laughter)..
DDH: So there’s a downside and an upside…
Xavier: Exactly. So sometimes it’s difficult for Dredging International or all the others to select what will be the best place to send a dredger, there or here, big contracts or small contracts, big margins or small margins, security or non-security, payments or non-payments. And people are scared to come.
DDH: Scared to come to Nigeria? Yes but are people not scared to go to Iraq?
Xavier: Yeah but I don’t think there are many projects going on in Iraq at the moment. (General laughter). Because we have quite a significant part of the crew (of Pearl River) who are from the Philippines or Malaysia or Iran and these people are quite scared to come to Nigeria because you know when there were 25 Philippinos kidnapped in Nigeria and the Philippine government decided that no more of their nationals should come to Nigeria. So, as it is that’s an issue as well.
DDH: Now in terms of skilled manpower, are you people taking a lot of manpower from Nigeria?
Xavier: That’s BCC. Yes in the top management, I may say that the ratio is the same as the stake-holding of 60:40. The general manager, GM, myself and GM Technical all are foreign, brought from the technical partner TCMC. And you have the Chairman, GM Finance and GM Commercial are from NPA. So the ratio there is the same. Then, for what we are doing, we don’t need a lot of manpower. What we need are vessels, dredgers, and these ships they come with their crew. So if we hire such a vessel, we don’t have to employ (their crew). We have to employ welders, stewards, cooks, people like that, but not a lot of technical people because they come along with the ships. With BCC.
DDH: What is the kind of crew they come with? How many crew can be aboard these ships?
Xavier: Thirty people (reading from a list on a laptop), captain, two first mates, two second mates, two pipe operators, bosun, three deckhands, welder, cooks, stewards, chief engineer, two first engineers, two second engineers, two electricians, four third engineers. All together about thirty-two people and they are from Belgium, Holland, Philippines, Singapore, Ukraine. Most of them are Belgian.
DDH: And the tour of duty is about nine months?
Xavier: Yes. And they do six weeks on, six weeks off.
DDH: Does BCC have a mandate of succession planning, what kind of training for Nigerians in dredging is available in BCC activities?
Xavier: Yes, we are putting in place ( a training package). We have already taken some people, Mr Daudu and Mr Opena, to Europe for training courses, I think it was in UK or Holland. So we do it for BCC people as well as for NPA people; selected NPA people and selected BCC people in two main fields: management and operational training. (Showing on his laptop) Now this was the suggested programme for next year and the year after. I cannot give it to you because it is still provisional. The part that is management, these people will be NPA management or administrative people and also BCC administrative people. And then you have the technical modules, all the hydrographers, dredging management, environmental group practice and monitoring, etc. We will try to do one or two of these training sessions per quarter.
DDH: The NPA staff engaged in BCC, are they still NPA staff?
Xavier: No, they are BCC staff now but the training is not only for BCC people but also NPA people belonging to BCC. For instance, NPA hydrographers or NPA technical or port managers. These people don’t belong to BCC but BCC will train them as part of the development programme and agreement we have with them. We have a programme (designed by) CARES. CARES is the technical consultant working with BCC and they put quite an exhaustive (programme). They put a lot of different aspects for BCC, for NPA benefits, for administrative people, technical people. They developed as well distance learning tool by internet, by CDs, you just put a CD in your computer and learn what you need to learn when you want to do it if you are free for one hour. You just make an extra module and send the result by email to CARES and they assess your work by email.
DDH: Sounds interesting. Is TCMC happy with the joint venture?
Xavier: Yes, so far so good. (Laughter). I think BCC in fact was created not to assist NPA because NPA could hire such a vessel as well and deal largely with either Dredging International or Van Oord or the other dredging companies. But it’s called a special purpose vehicle, it’s a way that NPA can get things going faster than going through all the NPA administrative procedures, it could take forever. So, (in that way) it’s a very little number of people who are the decision makers, so we have Felix Ovwude, who is MD, NPA East, we have the technical manager, Mr Ogbonna, we have the ED Finance, Mr Ubaka. These three people, they can decide with the other directors from TCMC this is what we want to do. Mr TCMC can you do it? Yes, we can do it. And it’s organized within a couple of months.
(Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before the federal government merged the two former creations of the NPA done by the Obasanjo administration. )
MR Daodu's interview
Mr Daodu Olusegun put in 26 years of service at the dredging department of the Nigerian Ports Authority before moving over to the Bonny Channel Company (BCC) in 2005. He says BCC is a swifter operational machine than the NPA conglomerate where actions that now take BCC two days to initiate and complete can drag for months on end due to bureaucracy. He compares BCC to Lagos Channel Management, both of which are joint ventures established with the collaboration of NPA to better handle dredging and harbour management around Nigeria in a more nimble style. Mr Daodu who is BCC’s assistant general manager (technical) informs DDH that upon the successful completion of the ongoing dredging of the Calabar River, it will also have a similar organization set up to handle its maintenance and other ancillary services like laying of buoys, lighting, etc. In this interview, he provides the technical background to much of the new phase of capital dredging taking place at the Bonny River. This is being done with what the company has called the biggest dredger to work in Africa. We tried to get Daodu to enlarge on this definition and he did, quite succinctly. Starting first with opening comments and answers contributed by BCC’s general manager, (commercial), Mr Opena Anobili, the interview moved on with Mr Daodu. Excerpts:
DDH: Why is there need for a big dredge like that to work at Bonny? Mr Poppe, your former general manager called it the biggest dredger to work in Africa, is that the case?
Opena: Yes. By my own little knowledge, we have not had that kind of vessel (before). You see the job that we are doing there…there is a misconception. A lot of people are wrongly arrogating to this present project the need for Train 7 of the LNG. But this is in no way related to the Train 7, it’s a gross misconception. For now, the channel is about 12.5 metres deep along the fairway. Because of that, you find that when LNG vessels come, they can only move at high tide. When there’s low tide, they are stuck; they wait until there is high tide. It is to remove that tidal window, that’s why we are dredging to 14.3 metres, which is in no way related to Train 7 of the LNG. It is just so that the LNG vessels can move in and move out any time. A delay in an LNG vessel causes delay along the channel because no vessel moves once the LNG is there. So to remove that tidal window…so the vessel comes in anytime, goes out anytime, without constraints of tides. That is the essence of the entire project. LNG is the immediate concern but it is for everybody because if LNG is not constrained there, then you can float too.
DDH: How long does the delay take to get the right tide?
At this point, Mr Opena inquired if Mr Daodu will like to come in here…
Daodu: The scenario is like this, when an LNG vessel comes in, the channel is closed. When it loads, depending on the time it takes to load, you have two high tides and two low tides within the 24 hours of a day. So, if you have high water at 9 o’clock in the morning, by 3 o’clock you have low water. Then the next high tide will be 9 o’clock in the evening. It’s not fixed that it will be six hourly, it could be five hours, something like that; it could be six and half depending on so many factors like, solar moon affects tide. When you have full moon, you have full tide. When you have total darkness, you have low tide. So when the vessel finishes loading, there’s a book, Tidal Prediction Table, you now take it up and look at when you have the next high tide. It’s then you will be able to say this is when the vessel can move. So, the essence of this project now is to remove that tidal window.
DDH: The name of the company implies activity only for Bonny Channel. Is this right or are there other areas of operation for this company?
Daodu: The company dredges, surveys, lays buoys, they must make sure that the lights are on so that vessels can move 24 hours. They remove wrecks. All to make sure that the channel is safe for vessels’ navigation. Like yesterday, Buoy Five shifted. They called us. This morning we have deployed a vessel to tow it to its proper position.
DDH: Is the shift because of current?
Daodu: No, because of barges which push them. But you must make sure you rectify its position because it’s the only guide. The sea is an open (area), so it guides vessels like LNG because the cargo, gas, you know how hazardous it can be. So when it is damaged( referring to the buoys), some will be dragged to the sea, we lose it totally. When they drag it, some of these barges do long-towing…five barges together, so when they drag it….
DDH: So they may not even know when they have dragged a buoy?
Daodu: No, they don’t know. When they drag it, the chain will cut and it will float into the sea on its own. Because nothing is holding it anymore. There is usually a sinker and a chain and when these things holding it are not there, then you’ve lost the buoy.
DDH: So, when you get a report of that…?
Daodu: Immediately another vessel is coming, it may report that so-so buoy is missing. They wont report to us directly but to the harbour master or port master or to anybody in NPA and NPA will call us. Then we mobilize and replace it. Before it used to be…we worked in NPA (referring to himself and Mr Opena).
DDH: In the dredging department?
Daodu: Yes. If it was before when it was noticed like that, a letter will go to the MD in Lagos. Any letter coming in goes in to the MD’s office. MD may not be in for the next one or two weeks. The letter is sitting down there. When he comes in, he minutes it out. You cannot sit down in Lagos and know what is the situation. You either say that Port Harcourt (office) should go and investigate and report back or you put somebody on board to come and see it and may be he reports back. Then you have to mobilize. Is it that it has shifted or missing or damaged? That process could take three months.
Here Mr Opena interjected…
Opena: Here with just a phone call, without waiting for the letter, letter can come later. We just deploy and fix it up.
DDH: Does this mean that your organization must have buoys ready and undeployed waiting for just such an emergency?
Daodu: If you go to our dry-dock section, they would have refurbished them. Where you have a damaged one, you take a refurbished one, put the number, take the damaged one to the yard and refurbish it again for future deployment. So, immediately you hear that one is damaged, you know the colour, all you do is if you know the number, put a number, take it there, remove the damaged one and put the new one. So that at any time T, the buoy is there. So, now within 24 hours or maximum 48 hours, if a buoy is down and a report is made, the action is taken. Before now LNG vessels used to have a lot of complaints but now all those things are gone. All they need do is that if their vessel is coming and they see that something is damaged, they call their marine department in LNG. LNG will call NPA and NPA will call us and we mobilize and go and fix it. That is what LCM (Lagos Channel Management) is doing for Lagos ports. They are dredging Calabar port now and when they are through, they have to set up something like that. Because to keep a channel navigable, you need a team to be there. Like you want to lay a buoy, you know how much it costs. If it was still during the time of NPA (handling buoys, etc), you do the costing. It’s probably above the approving power of the Executive Director. It goes to MD, MD is not in. It has to wait. The job waits there. Sometimes, it’s even higher than the MD. So, it has to go the board and when will the board meet. Or it has to go to Abuja for ministerial approval.
DDH: So, it was due to this kind of scenario that the new system of the BCC was put in place?
Daodu: Yes. It was because of the bureaucracy that NPA was saddled with that the NPA approached government and government approved to put this in place. NPA has 60% while the technical partners have 40%. To get the appropriate government department to approve before we can meet the need, Nigerian waters is not safe because the buoys are not in position, they are not lighted. But now in terms of image, they (ship captains) tell you that Lagos and Port Harcourt you can go there anytime day or night.
DDH: That is the feedback now from abroad?
Daodu: Yes. Like we have a dedicated vessel which is standing by permanently mobilized. If NPA calls from Lagos we need victuals, we need fuel, or this or that…you needed approvals to get them. That could take you days. This one is standby 24 hours, even if it is something that is urgent, you can just call them and say such a thing is happening here, rectify it. It will be done immediately which was not possible in the old system.
DDH: Obviously, BCC operates faster in comparison with what obtained in the past but it still has to interact with a system replete with bureaucracy. How does BCC overcome all the hurdle to operate as fast as it does?
Daodu: BCC has technical partners overseas. If we want to buy (anything) we ask those people to buy while we now do the processes here. Meanwhile, the material is on its way. When the goods are here, we no with all the papers to the ministry (to tell them) these are the problems, the constraints….. The minister may take it the President for direct approval if he is convinced. Probably they will go with LNG people to tell them, for example, these people are saying if we cannot get this thing done this week, we have to suspend lifting of gas. …From there, there may be anticipatory approval.
DDH: Is BCC positioned to work for third parties? Have you done this before?
Daodu: Yes. We have done work for Onne port.
DDH: I wanted to find out how commercialized the venture is?
Daodu: It’s commercialized if we have a job that is within our area. Our area is the Port Harcourt area.
DDH: Now talking of the new dredger that is now deployed, how much spoil will be removed? What will the work load of the dredger be?
Daodu: The draught now is 12.5 metres. It (the spoil) is estimated to be about 12 million cubic metres. The channel before was 215 metres in width and we want to expand to 230 metres. It’s only this 215 metres that is 12.5; this other part is about 8 metres deep. The 12 million cubic metres of spoil is an estimate because when you are surverying, you run a line and your equipment is picking as you are moving. You can’t cover the entire area, so in essence, a place may be this deep, the next place may be deeper, the next place might be higher….So, that 12 million cubic metres it’s possible it doesn’t get there, it’s also possible it could be higher. Nobody is under the water to know exactly. If you want to say this place now I want it to go down 3 metres (pointing to a space near his office table), you know the stage it is in physically, it cannot change. Multiply the length, breadth and what you want to remove, it gives you the actual volume, you can know it on the ground. But in the sea, it’s not like that. Apart from what we have, for every six hours, you have ebb and flood tide, when they move they carry sand, mud, silt along. Just like when you have erosion. After erosion, you see that there’s some leftovers. Sometimes, when it (the tide) is coming back, it might remove it and put somewhere, etc. So, the seabed is never stable.
DDH: This 12.5 million cubic metres, is it going to be sand or silt or what?
Daodu: It’s a mixture of silt, mud and sand. You know, silt is the finest. Then when it’s a bit (bigger) then you have mud. Then from mud you have sand, fine sand, coarse sand and very coarse sand, etc.
DDH: What are you people going to do with the spoil, 12.5 million cubic metres?
Daodu: You drop it away.
DDH: Where, in the ocean?
Daodu: Yes, there is a dumping site in the ocean. Most of this 12.5 million is mud and silt, so as you are putting it, it’s dissolving.
DDH: What is the distance to be covered in the dredge exercise?
Daodu: The entire channel is about 17.5 kilometres; we are going to dredge about 10.5 to 11 kilometres. And we are going from 12.5m to 14.3 m deep in the major channel. The other place you have 9m, it’s going down to 14m.
DDH: Is it because of this volume that you people are calling it the biggest dredging work in Africa?
Daodu: You see LNG Train 6 will take off soon, so they want it as fast as possible.
DDH: Do you mean the dredging project?
Daodu: Yes. If you have something to load, (for example), you can load it with Tipper (truck) or lorry. But if you want to move it faster, you probably look for a trailer. Not that the smaller ones cannot do it but the speed. I think it’s about 11,500 hopper capacity (that is the dredger). That means for a trip, it can move that volume whereas if you had come with a 3,000 or 4,000 hopper capacity, that will go three times to meet that target. And the distance that it is going to dump it, the time to sail is the same. So, if this one makes six trips a day and that one makes six trips a day, multiple six times by this volume. Whereas this one will be doing over 50,000 cubic metres a day, that one will be doing about 18,000 cubic metres a day. What that one can do in one week, it will take this one almost four weeks.
DDH: What’s the distance from the Bonny Channel to the dump site?
Daodu: It’s about… (at this point, Mr Daodu referred to his laptop computer and showed the location of Calabar River, which he said discharges into the Bonny River and silts it up. He said since the dumping site is somewhere a distance up the ocean from the mouth of the Bonny River, it is difficult to specify a particular distance the dredger has to travel to discharge its load each time because as she dredges farther inland, the distance to the dumping site increases all along the 10-kilometre length of the project site.)
DDH: What this dredger is doing now is just the capital dredging only and the vessel will leave once it completes that?
DDH: In view of this siltation, it means after achieving the required depth, constant maintenance dredging must be done from time to time?
DDH: That will be with other smaller dredgers?
DDH: But presently, you said this channel depends on ebbing and flooding of the tide before LNG vessels can navigate it?
Daodu: You see every other vessel can go. For a cargo vessel, even if it is big, it can go. But gas, you know the nature of gas, it’s fully loaded…. A vessel can take half a metre keel-clearance, if it is a cargo vessel, you can take risk and go. Even if it touches ground, you don’t fear too much. But for a gas tanker, you dare not take that risk.
DDH: What is the minimum keel clearance for a gas carrier?
Daodu: You need at least one metre, minimum. And if it is fully loaded, you make a provision for a minimum of one and half metres, so that if there is a place that is silted up, it can still accommodate it. That is why when you say you want to do anything on LNG channel, it must be done immediately. Apart from the monetary reason, the attendant risk is enormous. If gas explodes in Escravos, you can’t be sure it will not burn Port Harcourt. Petrol is not as volatile as gas. You know gas is rare and is under compression, so as it is coming out it is expanding. And the vessel is about 250 metres long and about 40 metres wide, all containing compressed gas. So you can imagine if anything happens! For oil, it could cause pollution, you can clean it up. But this one is a major disaster.
DDH: Does this kind of dredging require environmental impact assessment, EIA?
Daodu: Yes. (Opening a side cabinet, he brings out and displays a bulky spiral-bound volume entitled “Environmental Impact Assessment ….”)
DDH: When you do an EIA of a project like this, what are you looking for because in other habitable places an EIA tries to look at the effect on human habitation and activities. In this case, nobody is living in these ocean places…?
Daodu: Habitat, fish, plants inside the sea, sand, pollution, all these things (are in view).
DDH: So what did the EIA say and recommend?
Daodu: It’s positive. If we do an EIA and they say it is going to be negative, they wont approve it. Once approved, they tell you what to do and what not to do. (Flipping through the large report, he reads out some of the notations: possible impact and mitigation measures, flowline detection, hydrology, geophysical acoustics, eco-sounding surveys, bathymetric sub-bottom profiling, magnetometric surveys…Flipping more pages, he continued the response…). These are the potential and associated impacts. (Flipping through yet more pages..) These activities they are going to carry out, these are what it would entail and these are how to contain them…(interference with fish and their migration patterns, interference with vessel and boats fishing activities, risk of collusion of survey vessels with cargo tankers, vessels and structures during adverse weather conditions leading to fire and explosions, workplace accidents, trips, falls, man-overboard, which may result in injury, death of personnel; noise or pollution on survey vessel…)
DDH: Now speaking about other areas of BCC’s commercialized activities, especially third party customers, what kind of profile of activities does the company boast of?
Daodu: We source sand for people working in Onne port.
DDH: Using your dredgers?
Daodu: What we do is we take a burrow pit, we go and get sand and put there for them.
DDH: Inside the water?
DDH: But they would still need a dredger to bring it out?
Daodu. Yes, they will need a cutter dredger.
DDH: Is this not double expenditure? Why can’t they get a dredger to do that in the first place?
Daodu: Where to go and get the sand might be 20 kilometres away, for example. If you want to use a cutter (dredger) and lay pipes from there to this place, you need so many booster stations. For every one kilometer, you need a booster station. And you are going to disrupt movement of the vessels. Nobody is going to give you approval for that. So, on the alternative, we go and get the sand from deep offshore, put it there in front of your jetty and you can dredge it out from there.
DDH: So you use hopper dredgers that can move many thousand cubic metres at a go?
Daodu: It depends on the type of the vessel. Like this one is a super dredger, you can’t use it there. The water depth there might not be up to 8 metres. This one when it’s fully loaded, will draw more than 8 metres, so you use a sizable dredger.
DDH: The hoppers BCC has used to do these kinds of jobs, how many cubic metres does it bring at a go?
Daodu: 5,000 cubic metres. When we say 5,000 cubic metres, that’s the maximum capacity but in essence it doesn’t get to 5,000 because part of it is water, air, everything.
DDH: But at the end of the day, BCC is given a target. Maybe the client is looking for say 20,000 cubic metres to be dumped in the pit?
Daodu: Like what they are doing in Escravos now, the Chevron Gas LNG (perhaps referring to the Gas-to-Liquid project), the sand they are using is brought from Lekki.
DDH: Lekki in Lagos?
Daodu: Yes. They use a super dredger like this to come and dump it. (They) bring it to a burrow pit in Escravos and put it there. Another one takes it from there to come and put it in front of the jetty, and they now use a cutter to dredge it out.
DDH: Which company is handling this?
Daodu: It’s a joint venture by Chevron. You know this one (Bonny LNG) is mainly Shell, the one in that place is Chevron. What I am saying is this, the size of the sand they want to use they can’t get around them there. They go and do sand search. Once you get the type of sand you want and the quantity, you can deploy a bigger vessel to bring it for you nearer and in stages.
DDH: Surely, this is a novel aspect of dredging to many…
Daodu: Dredging is for many reasons. You want to create channel or sand fill, so many things but people don’t know, so when they say dredging they think you are bringing out sand only. The last time, some people came and said you are wasting sand. When we did maintenance dredging in this our channel, we remove about 3.5 million cubic metres every year. So they ask, why are you wasting sand? But what we remove there is mostly mud; it’s not useful. But when you hear dredging, you say, ah! 3.5m metric tones, if you put it somewhere you can sell it. One, you can’t sell it. Two, the cost of bringing it from Escravos to a place in Port Harcourt, where you have to dump it and use cutter (dredger) to pump, what’s the rationale? By the time you add all the costs…the dredger has to come almost 60 kilometres (from Escravos).
DDH: But you people are doing that now?
Daodu: No, I am saying just as an example (to answer somebody who says why don’t you bring the material from there down here…). Even if what they dredge there is sand, and you say you want it in Port Harcourt, what do you want to use it for, because it’s mud. Two, if it’s sand, is it the type you want? If it’s the type you want, will you be able to pay the cost? So, when they say sand is N5.00 per cubic metre, when they bring it like that, it will not be that amount because the dredge that brings it here will charge. This one that pumps it here will charge. This man who is bringing it here 60 kilometers, you know how much fuel he is going to burn to come here and burn fuel to go back? Delays, that’s about 6 to 7 hours, almost 8 hours to come if it’s fully loaded. You know if you have a tanker that is fully loaded, it can’t move as fast an empty tanker.