Have you seen an improvement in the road logistics situation in Apapa over the past year?
There have been improvements, but not as much as I predicted. The road is almost complete. It is not right up to the port gate, but it is accessible. In 2019, a whole section was closed. Now, the whole road can be used, even though some areas are not finished. They have employed government agencies, including the navy and customs. There are some checkpoints, which at least reduces the congestion at Apapa slightly. There is a line where the authorities let a certain number of trucks through in a day. It works in terms of the traffic flow; one does not get into a situation where they are sitting on the road for days. You know it will take an X amount of time to get to the front of the queue. The problem is cost, which has increased. However, now at least we know the cost and timeframe of getting goods into Apapa. In the past, something that may have taken 10 days to get into Apapa today takes about two. Things are improving.
What is causing the congestion in Apapa?
Every year, there are more trucks on the road. Once there is a project, either the transporter or the company purchases more trucks to service that project. Once that project ends, those trucks stay; they get the majority of their work from Apapa. This means we have more trucks on the road compared to three years ago. In 2014, there were fewer trucks and better road infrastructure. There was no barge movement for consumers then, but it was still easy.
How much of your empty cargo volume is road versus barges?
The problem is with capacity, especially in the ports. The core business at the ports is to receive import cargo and then send out export cargo. That means one cannot deploy resources to empties. They cannot keep vessels waiting outside, either. It is based on capacity availability. For two of the shipping lines, we do six to eight barges per day, though those two shipping lines want to do more. They could probably do double. We have other shipping lines enquiring, too but we are close to full capacity as far as handling barges are concerned
What do you anticipate revenue and growth in the business in the coming year?
The empty container business will not go on indefinitely. There will still be scope for empty returns, though not the volumes we are seeing now. One of the areas we want to do is the full containers as long as it can be evacuated to an off dock immediately. We do not have the space to store and have customs agents come and take three or four weeks to clear a container. We need the containers out to receive the next vessel. That is one area where we are actively speaking to potential partners to ensure we can bring maybe two vessels a month. 1,000TEUs a month is a realistic target for us. We are doing a great deal of steel products as well. The challenge is for us is to make sure we can offer all these services and do it in a way such that no one is neglecting any of the clients. We also seek to be as efficient as possible and maximize revenue. Our challenge at the moment is picking and choosing which business makes sense. We have more demand than our capacity can allow. It is a good place to be in, but sometimes one is so busy with the operation that they need to take a step back and determine which business ventures make sense.