23-Mar-2005 -- We are almost arrived to our first destination in Nigeria, Port Harcourt. This morning we passed 4N 7E, then we altered course to NNE towards the outer anchorage of Bonny River. After having reported to "Bonny Signal Station", we were informed the port of Port Harcourt being congested and so we have to wait outside. From this Confluence we can make out the coastline of the Eastern Delta of River Niger.
Looking to NNW there is the coast around the mouths of Sambreiro River and Fouché Creek.
To NNE we can see the coast around the mouth of Bonny River, where we have to enter later in order to steam up to Port Harcourt. On the Eastern shore of Bonny River there is a refinery which silhouette we can make out from the Confluence. Further several tugboats are coming out from Bonny Town with equipment and stores for the various oilrigs and platforms in the area.
The closest object is an oil platform in the East, and another oil exploitation plant is to the South, where we see an oil rig, a tanker and several supply vessels.
Nigeria is one of world's major oil producing countries and a member of OPEC. But this does not imply that oil in Nigeria is available in abundance. I remember this remarkable visit to 5N 7E: When I was driving with my shipping agent to Agrita, his oil pressure alarm light was continuously flashing red. I was of the opinion that something should be done against it, and he agreed. But lubrification oil for motors is extremely difficult to find in Nigeria, and so we tried several gas stations without success. Finally, we found one which could sell us some. But we could not get a bottle of one litre (1 quart). The gas station attendant drained a few drops from a small barrel, and the situation looked to me similar to a pharmacy where you purchase a few grams of an extremely rare or powerful medicine. All we got was about 100 ml (4 fl.oz.).
This was poured into the motor, but due to the insignificant quantity the alarm was of course still active. "No problem", my shipping agent said, "now I have refilled the lube oil and so I do feel comfortable again. Never mind the alarm, now I know there is fresh lube inside and that is fair enough!" Obviously he was right, for we arrived safely back at Port Harcourt, and generally spoken, cars do last far longer in Africa than in the developed Western World. I do not know anything about cars and their technique and maintenance, but very probably we are refilling the motors too frequently and should begin to ignore the low pressure alarms in order to prolong the lifetime of their motors... (?)
The waters in the Gulf of Guinea are rich of fish. Today we caught already some. Among the many types I know we found a very strange one as well. It has a length of about 50 cm (1' 5") and on the upper side of his head he has a large shoe-sole shaped device with which he can obviously connect itself with another bigger fish, in order to travel free of charge and to participate on its daily meals.
If we catch a so far unknown fish it is best to consult our Filipino crew. They are all well experienced and do not only recognize most types, but they know as well whether it is edible or not. According the final judgement of our cook Manuel from Manila it is okay and will be prepared for dinner.
But for more curious and scientific readers cook Manuel's judgement may not be satisfactory, and so I investigated further. For such cases Dr. Werner has to take care, and for what else than for such biologic questions do I keep a medical doctor?
Werner's answer was prompt: This fish is a "sharksucker" or "Remora" (Echeneidae). Sharkssuckers are mostly found in small groups and prefer to live in symbiosis with e.g. whales, sharks, rays and turtles. With their suction plate, which developed from their first back flipper, they can connect themselves to the lower part of the other animal. Doing so they get free transport, are protected from enenies and can participate on the meals of their host. In compensation for this service they are cleaning the bodies of their host from parasites.
The sharksucker is welcomed by whales, but sharks do not appreciate it. But the sharksuckers do just really "love" sharks and drive them fully mad, due to the fact that they connect themselves frequently to the sensorically and hydrodynamically most sensitive points of their body. Sharks try to solve this problem and to get rid of sharksuckers by all means and efforts. One method is that the shark jumps out of the water and when splashing back on the surface he shakes off the annoying guest. Unfortunately, this practice has only a rather temporary success, as they reconnect themselves again very soon. Werner reports that sharksuckers can connect themselves to hulls of yachts as well.
Bonny River is entered first through a narrow and dredged offshore channel. Land begins at Field Point, where a prominent framework tower stands, and the pilot embarks a few miles upriver at Bonny Town. From there it takes another 3 hours of navigation up to Port Harcourt, where we finally berthed on 25 March. The first person to welcome me was my shipping agent Mr. Collins who still remembers our visit a three years ago. "Let's try this Easter Sunday to go to 5N 7E from another side!" he suggests.
River Niger, one of the most famous of African rivers, originates in several small rivers, which rise in the Kong Mountains, in the area of Guinea and Sierra Leone. From there "Upper Niger" flows generally NE to Bamako, the capital of Mali and to Timbuktu, where it changes its direction towards East until Buram Island, also known as "the Great Bend of the Niger". From there on we talk about the "Middle Niger", which flows generally SE through Niamey (the capital of the Republic of Niger) up to Jebba in Northern Nigeria. From there on "Lower Niger" flows towards the sea, forming a huge delta with numerous branches. The principal rivers forming the delta are:
- Benin River
- Escravos River
- Nun River
- Brass River
- New Calabar River
- Bonny River
All these rivers join the main stream at Ndoni, about 180 km inland, where the delta may be said to end. The total length of River Niger is about 3,000 km (1,900 miles). River Niger, as many other rivers, has a high and a low level, but it has a peculiarity, which is unique in world.
Now let me put a trivia question:
How long do readers believe the rise in Upper Niger takes to travel down to the Lower Niger?
I give the answer immediately: It takes a WHOLE YEAR! Why?
This occurs in the following manner:
Owing to its opening out at places into many rivers, and then again converging into one river, the rise in Upper Niger takes such an extremely long time to travel down to where Lower Niger begins. At the source waters of River Niger there are the Kong Mountains. Heavy rain commences in February and continues until July, and the numerous rivers thus formed do converge. Later on, between Bamako and Timbuktu, River Niger opens out into a number of small rivers running through flat country. As the river above Bamako rises to its greatest height about July, it pours its waters over the plains and reaches its maximum height in September. It then floods the entire low-lying region up to Timbuktu, but - retarded by the vast amount of country flooded, the highest rise does not take place at Timbuktu until January. From Timbuktu the waters are again collected into one river, but the retardation is so great that it is not until the following July that the river reaches its highest point at Niamey - at which time the river is again in flood at Bamako and low at Timbuktu.
This demonstrates that everything in this world has basically an easy explanation. :-)
Information about River Niger obtained partly from Nautical Publication Nr. 1, Africa Pilot, Vol I, 13th
ed. 1982, Hydrographer of the Navy, Taunton, England