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APM Terminals Apapa Setting Global Standards for Maritime Workers

Since 2006 when APM Terminals Apapa took over the concession of the then Lagos Container terminal, a lot has been said about its physical transformation over the years. Scanty physical structures have been replaced by state-of-the-art offices, moribund equipment by the latest technologically advanced container equipment, manual processes have given way to digital products and chaos to organised port operations.

However, not much attention has been paid to the evolution of the employees some of whom worked in the Apapa port prior to the concession.

APM Terminals Apapa Shift Manager, Oluwatobi Oyelohunnu, and Planning Superintendent, Raphael Okolo, were former Tally Clerks for Maersk Line at the Apapa Port prior to 2006, ensuring accurate recording of vessel and cargo details on the tally sheet.

“Back then, there were free access into the port and onto the quay side for terminal workers and customers alike. Often times this led to unsafe situations and potential for extortion, where some would try to make extra money by facilitating quicker access to cargo or equipment.

“There was no proper delineation of job roles or proper accountability for the unprofessional activities of terminal workers in the ports,” Raphael said.

The safety of both terminal workers and the customers who visited the ports was a big issue. All through Raphael’s time from 2002 to 2006 before the concession, he never came across any Safety Officer trying to enforce safety standards at the port.

“Back then, if you just had on a boilersuit, you were allowed to go to the quayside even without a hardhat and boots,” he added.

When APM Terminals came on the scene in 2006, the bar for logistics professionals was taken higher. Some of the port workers like Raphael and Tobi, who were employed into APM Terminals went through a job and attitude orientation process.

Raphael said, “All employees went through several value sessions where we were instructed on how to imbibe and exhibit the company values while discharging our duties. They tried to change our mentality on how terminal operations works and why the customer is a priority. The changes came gradually. There were also lots of trainings on Safety and how to execute each of our job roles.

“I started off as a Vessel Planner; trainers came in from Malaysia and Holland to train us on vessel planning. They left between 2007 and 2008.”

Soon after, Raphael was sent to the Malaysian Port of TanjungPelepas to understudy the Planning department during a week-long training.

“Six of us went from Apapa. We observed the Planning department is structured differently from Apapa. There was no Supervisory position in Apapa’s Planning function. For instance, there are Vessel Planners, Cargo Planners and Yard Planners. Each of these categories of planners, have other planners working under them because it is a lot of work. In a particular unit, you have four or three arms of that same job function doing different things.

“Ours was not like that. You have a vessel planner watching the vessel, planning the total containers discharged and loaded. A vessel planner would plan and monitor all four vessels because we had four berths back then,” he said.

Upon their return, all six employees wrote their findings in a report and Apapa’s planning function was restructured based on that report.

For Oluwatobi, it was a similar experience once employed by APM Terminals. He was exposed to various trainings on terminal operations of which the knowledge was later adapted to suit the Apapa environment.

He said, “I have been here since the inception of APM Terminals Apapa, started my career as a Vessel Planner. Soon after, I was sent to Cameroun for two weeks and helped set up their Planning department.

“I later went to Dubai for another training session on Terminal Management. You learn things like how to compete for customers, get an edge in the market. It was a two-week training. From Dubai, I moved to the Port of Salalah, Oman. It is a huge transhipment hub. They had a huge training center which some of our equipment operators had gone to for training.”

For two months, Oluwatobi studied the Fundamentals of Terminal Management through several webinars and assignments, where participants were taught cost-efficiency measures in terminal operations.

“The Port of Salala is run differently from Apapa. There is less involvement with government stakeholders. For instance, Port of Salalah controls the harbours and pilotage. This makes vessel operations more efficient because immediately you are done working on a vessel, you deploy a tugboat and pilotage immediately. However, at Apapa different communication channels between the various parties, often lead to idle time after the cargo operations has completed.

“With each training I went to, I learned something new. Some of these things have been implemented at Apapa. Best practice is what you pick up. For instance, after my experience at Dubai and Salalah, I came to the terminal at Apapa and suggested we change our pinning station position. The pinning station is where our employees install and remove twist locks from containers. The previous position was close to the Mobile Harbour Cranes which was a huge safety issue. After I observed how the Port of Salalah positioned theirs, we adapted the same thing at Apapa and move the pinning station to both ends of the vessel,” Oluwatobi said, leading to a safer operation for our lashing teams.

Other changes that have been effected at APM Terminals Apapa include a lunch schedule for Equipment Operators that allowed terminal operations continue undisturbed during lunch time.

“Back then, we used to stop operations during lunch and all equipment operators would go off in the terminal shuttle to eat. When it is time to come back to work, it takes so much time because some operators may not have had their lunch by then because they had not been served. There was this huge time gap, and we were losing so much in terms of manhours.

“While working as Planning Manager in Tema, Ghana in 2007, I observed they had a lunch roster that ensured operations still went on during lunch hours. Upon our return from Tema, we changed the format for lunch hours in a such way that our operations didn’t shut down,” Raphael recalled.

For Oluwatobi, there is still a lot more to learn from more advanced ports. He alongside three other colleagues from APM Terminals Apapa, had in December 2023, visited Abidjan Terminal, Cote D Ivoire.

He said, “We were there to help them improve their crane operations. We made some improvements and created a work instruction for them on how Equipment Operators work.

“The terminal is a green terminal; their operations are environmentally friendly. For instance, the terminal trucks don’t run on fuel; they use rechargeable batteries. Same thing goes for the terminal shuttle bus, their Ship-To-Shore cranes and Rubber Tyre Gantry cranes. The only container equipment that runs on fuel is the Empty Handler and Reach stacker.

“Although the terminal’s capacity is smaller than Apapa’s, they are looking to learn from more experienced terminals. I also noticed that their port authorities are not visible in the port.”

Terminal Manager Steen Knudsen said, “One of our core values is our employees; creating the right environment for them to work and give their best. Training and re-training them is one of the ways we ensure they are equipped with the right skills to provide world class services to our customers.

“We invest a lot in the training and development of Nigerians to not only take on senior roles in the company but also in the industry. We also provide opportunities for our employees to move from one function to another, picking up a new set of skills and more experience about the business along the way.

“With each training and upskilling of our employees, the terminal also evolves and upgrades its operations. Our goal is to provide world class services to our customers and we can only do that by imbibing best practices obtainable in other terminals around the world.”