Port congestion is estimated to cost Nigeria $55 million a day in lost economic activities. This is because trucks queue up for days, waiting for port authorities to call them up to load or unload their cargo. To resolve this issue, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) launched an e-call-up system, called Ètò, for scheduling the entry and exit of all trucks into the ports. 

Despite the controversial start of the e-call system, a year after Eto became operational it has recorded successful milestones by reducing traffic congestion on port access roads. It is also phasing out extortion and illegal payments by truckers, and cutting down haulage costs. 

The Eto app is ameliorating one of the most troubling challenges in port operations in Nigeria. But, wholesome port digitalization—with the use of technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, blockchain, 5G, and Artificial Intelligence (AI)—for all port operations is what is needed at the Nigerian ports.

Challenges Facing Port Operations in Nigeria

There are six seaports in Nigeria: Apapa port and Tin Can Island port in Lagos State; the Onne port and Port-Harcourt port in Rivers State; the Warri Port in Delta, and the Calabar Port in Cross River state. These ports showed unchecked inefficiencies, poor governance, delay in cargo clearance, lack of infrastructure, and chronic underinvestment after the Haskoning Study was conducted in 2002. The recommendations of the study were to concession the ports to private investors under a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement and change of port governance model to the Landlord model.

Sixteen years after concession became operational in Nigerian ports, some port equipment has been upgraded, and process automation for generating manifest, waybill, payment of customs duties, and clearing cargoes at terminals have been achieved. Vessel arrival and departure can also be monitored online from the NPA website, while customs and terminal operators have initiated online payment systems on their respective web portals. Yet, delays in cargo clearance, increase in cargo clearance charges, exorbitant demurrage fees, port congestion, and lack of basic equipment and infrastructure are new and recurring challenges in port operations.

Port Digitalisation To The Remedy

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) revealed that about 90 percent of global trade volume is moved by the maritime shipping industry, especially the ports. Premised on this, several ports have digitized operations using new technologies to optimize service delivery in the global maritime industry by ushering in the new wave of smart ports. 

The biggest container ports in the world handle millions of containers annually and to meet up with the volume of trade, most of them have digitalized their operations. Ports of Rotterdam, Hamburg, Antwerp, Singapore, Shanghai, Le Havre, Los Angeles, Copenhagen Malmö, Valencia, and Barcelona are the top smartest ports in the world. 

Smart technologies such as AI, IoT, big data, blockchain technology, and 5G technology are driving innovations in world port operations.

Mohammed Bello-Koko, the Managing Director of NPA recently stated that the port authority developed a 5-year roadmap to create a fully digital ecosystem in all the country’s port locations by 2025. At the moment, here are some of the smart technologies missing at the Nigerian ports.

IoT and AI

Terminal operations systems for cargo shipping and payment, port logistics systems for cargo call-up and transportation; and automatic identification systems for cargoes and containers are some leading digital and technology systems used in the world maritime industry. 

Although Nigerian ports have automated payments, truck scheduling, and vessel monitoring, these are basically the foundation of port digitalization. Around the world, smart ports use robotics, big data, blockchain, and artificial intelligence systems to make port operations more efficient. 

An example is how Jebel Ali Port invested massively in IoTs and AI to improve process automation. Another instance is how the Port of Gothenburg uses a smart device called Allberth to identify open berths at the port. Some ports even use the Dynamic Under Keel Clearance (DUKC) guidance system for maneuvering very large ships. While other ports have a network of smart sensors and data centers to share real-time information. 

The full implementation of AI and IoT in Nigerian ports should encompass the use of automated vehicles at Lagos ports alongside the Eto call-up system to eliminate port congestion and make port queues non-existent. With the aid of AI, these automated vehicles can serve as logistics solutions for transferring cargoes to dry ports and warehouses, reducing truck traffic on port access roads.

5G Technology and Big Data

It is a common thing for busy ports to invest in process automation. That’s why some of the busiest ports in the world are fully automated, using big data and the 5G technology. For instance, there is a Chinese port that operates with less human involvement because it uses smart technology for port operations. 

With 5G technology, port systems can process a million sensor devices per square kilometre as opposed to 4G’s 100,000 devices. This new technology gives port operations the needed bandwidth to process data and passes across real-time information to relevant port authorities, enabling smooth operations.

For Nigerian ports, IoTs implemented for e-call up and electronic payments are plagued with glitches, making service delivery slow. With 5G technology, the ports can run seamless e-services that will reduce delays in cargo clearance, movement, and payments, and enhance data gathering for better system support.

The Digital Twin

This is a virtual representation of the physical assets with the added functionality of processes, people, systems, and devices. It is operational in the Ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam

This new technology gives a real-time overview of operations, insight into the actual spatial context, and overall situational awareness of a port, especially the movement of vessels. This is achievable through the fusion of data and analytics, visual interface, simulation, and physical modeling, situational awareness, and automated systems.

Nigerian ports need their own digital twin system to monitor vessels at berth or awaiting berth, to be able to initiate diversion to other ports and solve congestion issues. Also, a digital twin will serve as a huge springboard for more process automation at the Nigerian ports and give real-time information and data.

Blockchain Technology (BCT)

Blockchain technology enables real-time tracking and management of logistics activities, including asset locations within the supply chain. It also ensures the safe sharing of data among related parties. This technology is being operated in the Port of Busan using the Chain Portal system to control vehicle booking, inter-terminal transport, and monitoring system.

The Nigerian port digitization plan should consider using blockchain technology BCT while implementing the National Single Window platform, which has been in the works for years. As it will help to streamline cargo manifest generation, payment of duties, and other activities which will in turn cut down clearance fees and make port operation faster.

Impacts of full-scale digitalization

The Nigerian smart port roadmap clearly addresses port deficiencies and provides needed solutions, albeit it focuses more on information and intelligence systems, with little or no mention of how to achieve smart ports using IoT, AI, BCT, and digital twins. Meanwhile, evidence shows that these smart technologies will solve the generational challenges in Nigerian ports and position them to be Africa’s smartest ports.

Nigeria already has the advantage of having some of the busiest ports in Africa. With the AfCFTA in place and the country’s overall potential for trade, implementing smart port technologies will boost operations and garner more businesses at the ports.

About the author

Olakunle Mohammed

Leave a Comment