Exclusive: NPA on edge as Wike disrupts port operations in Port Harcourt – Dockworkers shun duties, Vessels stranded on anchorage

Funso Olojo

There is a heightened tension in Port Harcourt as the power play between the APC-led Federal government and the PDP-led administration in Rivers State has continued to take heavy toll on port operations in the state.

Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State has continued to defy the order of the Federal government on exemption of essential workers and bear down on its assets in the state in what observers described as an expression of his frustration over the alleged failure of Abuja to give the state #COVID-19 largesse to fight the pandemic.

The latest attack of Gov. Wike is the Port Harcourt ports whose operations have been disrupted by the state government.

Despite the Federal Government pronouncement that port operations all over the country should continue unhindered despite the lockdown, Gov. Wike was said to have clamped down on 20 dockworkers that were alleged to violate the state Government restriction on movement over Covid-19 pandemic.

Following their arrest, the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) on Monday gave 48-hour ultimatum for the release of the detained dockworkers, failure of which the union threatened to call out its members nationwide on strike action.

As at the time of writing this report, the arrested dockworkers are yet to be released and the ultimatum ends today.

However, it was gathered that the operations at the Port Harcourt ports are now crippled as the state branch of the maritime workers Union has already embarked on strike action.

This has resulted in long queue of vessels which are stranded on the anchorage as there were no dockworkers to offload their cargo.

Already, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has raised alarm over the crippling effects of the strike action, especially on perishable goods on board some of the vessels which are said to be gradually decomposing.

Consequently, the NPA port Manager in Port Harcourt has sent a distress call to the Headquarters in Lagos over a fish-laden vessel that was caught in the cross-fire which perishable cargo is getting decomposed.

“This is to bring to your notice that I met with the dockworkers this morning(Tuesday) to prevail on them to resume work in the port but they insisted on continuing with their down tool based on the non-release of their shuttle bus and non-pronouncement by the Rivers State Government that Port operations shall go unhindered without any further arrests.

“In addition to that, we have a fish laden vessel which has been at berth since last weekend.

“Unfortunately, the vessel’s cooling system is showing signs of imminent breakdown.

“The implication of this is that the fish cargo can go rotten which also poses an additional environmental health risk to the port and surrounding communities.

“There is need for immediate intervention to get dock labour to get back to work and offload the cargo and continue work on the other vessels in the port.

“The state government gave a 48-hour ease of the lockdown commencing today (Tuesday) excluding the Port workers access to the port to work on the vessels at berth”.

The intransigence of Gov. Wike to exempt port workers from the lockdown rule in the state, as opposed to the Federal government pronouncement to do so, has given the port authority a great concern as the Governor seems stuck to his gun.

However, there are high-level consultations going on to prevail on Gov. Wike not only to release the arrested dockworkers and their bus but also to stop the harassment of people who have genuine business at the Port, including dockworkers.

We gathered that the Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Barrister Hassan Bello, has got in touch with Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, the President General of Maritime workers union in a bid to broker peace.

It would be recalled that Gov. Wike, in April, arrested, detained and in the process of prosecuting two pilots of Caverton Helicopter whom he accused of violating the no-fly into the state order.

This was despite the Federal government permission granted the aviation company.

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