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Nigerian ports have continued to contend with cargo delays and backlogs due to low levels of automation. Physical examination of cargoes, paper documentation and physical contact have often slowed down pace of development in the nation’s ports.
Presently, Nigeria is till struggling to acquire modern scanning machines and other technology apparatuses, while other maritime nations have adopted the use of technology through massive investment to turn their ports into “smart ports.” A smart port is one that uses automation and new technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain to improve its performance. Smart port enhances efficiency, competitiveness and boosts revenue.
In a smart port, big data facilitates new planning guides and facilitates port logistics through the compilation and connection of information on ship positions as they arrive at or leave the port.
However, through the IoT, ports are transformed into maritime information-network hubs. Relevant data about vehicles, ships and cargo movement are collected and used in real time to coordinate with shipping and logistics partners because everything has been automated.
In a smart port, cost-effective sensors are installed in or along, quay walls, roads, railways and bridges, transmitting real-time data about operating conditions. This also enables the port to proactively identify needed maintenance or repairs and thereby avoid unplanned downtime.
In this environment, cargo handling is digitally connected and helping ports to increase their handling capacity and productivity by ensuring that stacking cranes, straddle carriers, forklifts, and other equipment are correctly maintained and operate at peak efficiency. This also includes the automatic identification and detection of containers.
For example, South Africa has embarked on a project to modernise its ports infrastructure to increase its competitive edge under the smart port concept. The Transnet National Ports Authority chose Durban as a pilot for the new project.
Speaking with Daily Sun, Advisory Head/CEO, Kamany Marine Services Limited, Charles Okorefe said Nigeria is not ready for smart ports because it lacks anything smart ports concept.
According to him, some other ports across the world are highly automated ports when looking at the issues of Artificial Intelligence (AI), big data and blockchain technology, adding that the Rotterdam port in Netherlands, has entered into an agreement with Industrial Business Machine (IBM) to develop deeper concept of its smart port.
“In Nigeria, we are still talking of acquisition of scanners for data. So, when you don’t even have scanners to facilitate Customs examination, how can you be talking of smart ports? In the port of Rotterdam, there are equipment to ensure that vehicles that are coming into the port are automatically captured, especially the ones that are coming in for cargo loading and all of that.
“So, they have sensors that capture them and direct them to where they are to go. You are talking of automating your terminals for cargo handling; do we have such facilities that are able to locate containers, giving their containers’ numbers and all of that? No.
Our containers are still loaded manually in our terminals. Meaning that for you to load that your container, it’s done manually, that does not look like a smart port,” he said.
To initiate smart ports in Nigeria, he said the Federal Government should first look at what is obtainable in other functional ports around the world, such as places like Singapore, port of Kobe in Japan even South Africa, because these are forward thinking people, adding that in Nigeria, people are talking of purchasing scanners and the politics of who is to buy, whether Customs, Nigerian Ports Authority or Ministry of Finance.
He urged the Federal Government to first develop the zeal to transmit into operating smart ports and that will mean, they will be ready to understudy those that have gone into it to know how they are doing it and how they are successful; that is the starting point.
“You cannot just jump up and say I want to do smart port without understanding the underlining concept that drives smart ports. They must first of all study those that have undergone the process and are running with it now, before you talk of implementation, what they have learnt and replicating it across Nigerian ports. At the Lagos area, the problem of access roads to the port is a major minus already, not to talk of the port’s environment,” he added.
He said if the government wants to go in the direction of smart ports, it must first learn the roads from those who have mastered the roads, talking about developed ports.
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