Towards A Digitalised Port System

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One major issue dominated discussions at the parley of the chief executive officers of maritime agencies hosted by the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC): How to move the industry forward through digitilisation.

At the forum were the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Mr Hassan Bello; Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala-Usman; and Director-General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh.

Others were Dr. George Moghalu, managing director, National Inland Waterways Authority; and Commodore Duja Effedua (rtd), rector, Maritime Academy of  Nigeria (MAN), Oron.

Ms Bala-Usman said improved synergy among heads of maritime agencies was vital to enhancing operations in the sector.

According to her, ‘’we have decided to hold monthly meetings among all the agencies that are under the maritime industry’’.

‘’We intend to have the meeting every month for the next four months and subsequently we will be having it quarterly,” she said.

The NPA boss said they would sustain the engagement and provide regular briefings on areas that need improvement.

Jamoh said the agreement followed the work of a ministerial committee, stressing that such meetings are necessary to build synergy and create the right atmosphere for the progress of the economy.

He said there was no better time to improve synergy among agencies under the Federal Ministry of Transportation than  now ”When the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying disruptions to business and economy have placed a great deal of responsibility on the maritime sector as a vital support to the economy and key medium for the movement of essential supplies’’.

He stated: “We have held the inaugural meeting for improved synergy and we hope to hold it on a monthly basis for the next four months.

Due to the proximity of our corporate headquarters to each, a lot of gains will be achieved in a short while without the usual official bureaucracy.”

The DG added: “From our discussions and deliberations, we have decided on so many issues that concern national development, overlapping functions, and others.’’

Bello said NSC called for synergy to increase business value and enthrone transparency, speed up efficiency and safety in port activities and supply chains. He said the industry needed to leverage digitalisation to optimise operations.

Nigeria, he said, needs to combine and evolve digital operations to get a clearer picture of the maritime landscape, noting that digitalisation holds great potential for making maritime transport chains more efficient, flexible and agile.

Their collaboration, according to him, would open up the ports to meet the challenges of globalisation, demographic change and urbanisation.

Digital solutions, Bello said, would simplify port processes, improve efficiency and safety along the entire maritime transport chain.

Their collaboration would lead to  targeted exchange of information and data and the ports would develop to international standard by using  new business models, he said.

Their discussion, the NSC chief  said, centred on how they could utilise the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain and big data to make the seaports more efficient and capable of handling greater volumes of goods.

He said ports, terminals and vessels that carry the goods were critical to the  economy hence, their decision to synergise for the future.

To meet challenges that might be facing the seaports, Bello said, the country needs to invest on infrastructure to redefine cross-border trade and accelerate the movement of products in addition to creating local and global environments.

Digitalisation of the ports

“We need 24/7 operations at the ports. But the cardinal thing is the digitalisation of ports’ system and processes. We want our ports to be contact less, paper less and digital ports. It is important.

Digital ports, that means you are removing human contact and that will reduce corruption.  Which we cannot hide because it is affecting the performance of our ports.

“So, how we are going to do that is to look and approach all relevant stakeholders. We know we have to talk with freight forwarders, we have to talk with Customs, we have to talk with the terminal operators and we have to talk with almost everybody in the sector so that we can start this  24/7 port operations.

“Sixty per cent of the operation is done digitally, but we need it it to be 97 per cent. So, what is remaining is invoicing, people have to go to the port.

No! You should be able to generate your invoice electronically. Therefore, we have to talk the banks, the terminal operators and the shipping companies and the Customs. Each one of them have their own system and we have to Integrate them.

“By the first quarter of next year, there would be appreciable digitalisation of our ports. So, if we digitalise our ports, that means we can have 24/7 operations. Not many people will have to go to the ports to exit their cargo.

“We have agreed  to work together. We need the synergy because we have realised that it is the synergy that is missing.

All of us have our statutory responsibilities and sometimes it overlap. Therefore, what is needed is for us to come together and help each other or one another to make sure that all these things are done well in our ports,” he said.

The industry, Bello said, is having to play catch up with aviation industry is the gap in technology and skills including costly implementation, time-consuming processes to visualise the data, and a negative experience with technical support resulting in an unruly amount of data

24-hour port operations

Bello also said the heads of  agencies have agreed to put in place a solid measure that will lead to 24-hour port operations.

‘’We need our ports to be there 24/7. Just like the airport, I will always say that at the airport, you can land at 3.00a.m, you can land at 5.00p.m  and you can land at 12 O’clock and the most important thing is that the workers are there. We want a replica of what is happening in our airport to happen in our sea ports,” he said.

Intermodal delivery and evacuation of cargo

Bello also said their collaboration would lead to intermodal delivery and evacuation of cargo.

“There must be the road, the inland waters with the barges and the rail. The Nigerian Shippers Council has promoted the evacuation of cargo, bringing in empty containers and exports by rail.

We are struggling to do this with the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) with the APMT and Nigerian Railway,’’ he added.

– The Nation.

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