Mrs Dabney Shall-Holma, Chairperson, Sealink Implementation Committee, says the Sealink Project will commence operation in the last quarter of 2021.
Sealink Project is a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement established to promote the development of a regional maritime company.
It is aimed at removing the bottlenecks and non-tariff measures along the ECOWAS trade corridor.
Conceived in 2011, it was billed to begin operations in 2020 but was delayed due to COVID-19 pandemic disruptions.
According to Shall-Holma, a lot of things that should have been achieved in 2020 were not and this caused a setback.
She said that the pandemic was a major disruption, but that the organisation was resilient in achieving its aim.
She added that Sealink was avoiding a rush in the commencement of operations.
This, she said, was to avoid mistakes as maritime transportation was a long gestation business and investment in it had no shortcut on return on investments.
She said there had been so many avoidable mistakes in the past because they thought they had gotten everything together.
“So to get our act together, we needed to do things in a synchronised manner so that when we launch out, we know that there is no falling apart again and we will be solid on the ground.
“So that is why we have waited so long, but to put your mind to rest before the end of 2021 our vessels will be flying.
“They will be flying the Nigerian flag Green-White-Green, which is something we have not seen in this clime for a long time.
“They will also be using all our equipments which are going to be coloured Green-White-Green, so that we can tell the world we have arrived and we are doing this.”
She, however, said that the major concern at the beginning of 2021 was that the organisation was yet to obtain charts on a mapped channel to start with inland waterways.
“Intra- coastal we can do, but then the entire purpose is defeated because our emphasis is on deepening trade, opening up into the hinterland, opening up to locations where there are ball cargo that cannot be evacuated.
“So what do we do with that. We knew we needed to approach the Navy, we had written them, so that they could actually carry out the survey, the mapping and the charting of the channel.
“Now, when you buy a 20 million dollar vessel and you want to put it in unchartered waters, nobody will insure that for you and for funding an investment, nobody is willing to stand behind you and give you any support.
“So there will be no guarantees coming from anywhere until people can actually see that the channel is mapped, surveyed and charted and once they are charted, the navigational aids are there its like you can actually deploy a vessel the following day.”
She added that the organisation was waiting for the Navy to finish its work.
“They have already commissioned and they have reported to site, they have started a lot of reconnaissance, but they are going to start from Ajaokuta and take it to Onitsha that is the first segment.”
The chairperson said that Rivers Niger and Benue had been mapped into five segments.
Shall-Holma said that the Ajaokuta second jetty, which used to be the Julius Berger jetty, but belonged to the Ajaokuta steel complex had been ceded to Sealink.
She said works had already commenced by engineers to upgrade it.
She added that efforts were on to ensure that as the vessels came, there was a point at which they could offload.
“Then we have a truck terminal that is just adjacent to the jetty, the truck terminal can accommodate up to 1,000 trucks and that is the top terminal we will be using.
“So we have on a bilateral agreement and a contractual agreement with Ajaokuta steel complex and gotten all those facilities ready for operation.
“Most importantly, we must also mention the role that has been played by the Ministry of Transportation in giving us the right of way in our Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
“(It is) a tripartite MoU with NIWA and then the Ministry for Mines and Steel for actually approving that we use the Ajaokuta facility.
“Although the agreement was between Ajaokuta steel and Sealink and NEXIM Bank, but the ministry had to give approval for that.
“So, that is why we keep saying all the three P’s in the PPP arrangement are working and they are leaving no stone unturned to ensure the success of the project.”