Despite the Federal Government‚Äôs efforts to aggressively woo foreign investors to revamp the nation‚Äôs economy, piracy, sea robbery and other crimes best described as economic terrorism appears to be on the rise.
This is because Nigeria operates an import dependent economy as substantial volume of the goods needed in the country are freighted by sea. Besides, a good percentage of the revenue generated by the government comes from shipment levies and vessel charges.
It therefore means that, without adequate security for seafarers and vessels, shipping companies will naturally dread Nigerian waters and the concomitant effect will be cargo draught and blighted economy.
It is in this light that the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), in collaboration with the Nigerian Air Force and the Nigerian Navy in August 2013 signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to jointly halt the activities of sea criminals, threatening the economy of the country.
The Director General of NIMASA, Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi, while speaking with Daily Sun on the sidelines of a recent sensitization programme between NIMASA and the military said the synergy keeps the country ahead of daring criminals.
He further revealed that the collaboration buoyed by hi-tech satellite surveillance equipment and impeccable intelligence network led to the successful rescue of a Ghanaian Fishing Vessel (Marine 711) from suspected hijackers on June 5, 2014.
‚ÄúThat singular feat sent a clear message to pirates that the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) is no longer safe for their operations. It further reaffirmed Nigeria‚Äôs determination to protect not only her economy, but also those of nations within the GoG, especially now that piracy has compelled shipping and insurance companies to designate the region as high-risk with attendant high premium on imported cargoes‚Äù, he added.
In this interview, he speaks more about the NIMASA/Military collaboration, maritime labour, national carrier and other issues.
Military/NIMASA synergy to enhance maritime safety and security
Safety and security is the bedrock of any successful venture. It is the epicentre of the transport sector. You cannot talk about a robust transport sector be it sea, air and land without making safety and security the foundation. In fact, everyone knows that safety of lives and property is a significant prerequisite for the growth and investment in any institution, sector or society. If the waters are not safe, the vessels will not come and the economy is in danger. So, this explains why maritime safety and security has become engrained in us in NIMASA. Safety is our culture. It is a way of life; an aspect that is never compromised. We remain indebted to our supervising Ministry of Transport, led by Senator Idris Audu Umar for the support in fulfilling our mandate.
However, in order to achieve our set objectives on maritime safety, NIMASA, under the present management, has made tremendous progress various areas. One of them is the NIMASA Satellite Surveillance Centre (NSSC). We believe that for any sustainable and meaningful growth in the maritime sector, a robust maritime domain awareness system is inevitable. NIMASA on August 26, 2013, entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Air Force to enhance Water patrol and Aerial surveillance of Nigeria‚Äôs maritime domain. The partnership was also entered into with a view to further enhance the agency‚Äôs capacity in enforcing extant maritime laws, as well as monitor and secure the nation‚Äôs territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EZZ).
The partnership will also tackle pirates‚Äô activities and other criminalities in the maritime sector. Remember our personnel cannot carry arms and since the sea criminals operate in a sophisticated manner, there is need to partner with the Air Force that has the statutory role of defending Nigeria‚Äôs territorial integrity. The Air Force will deploy its ATR 42-500 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) where necessary. They also have Mi-35P, Augusta Light Utility Helicopters and very expedient, the alpha jets and associated platforms. This shows that we‚Äôre not taking the issue of sea crimes lightly because it has a frightening economic effect on the country and the Gulf of Guinea in general if not tackled headlong.
Again, to effectively cover the countries under the Regional Maritime Search and Rescue Centre that comprise eight countries, a robust maritime domain awareness and response system is required. Therefore, we approached the relevant Federal Government authority and got approval to put in place a robust Maritime Domain Awareness. This led to the birth of the NIMASA Satellite Surveillance Centre.
Our desire is to provide a safety net for all those doing business within Nigerian waters. With the NIMASA satellite surveillance centre, which was launched last month, the agency is now able to respond to any distress call on Nigerian waters and even beyond. The new 24-hour Satellite Surveillance equipment has the capability to detect boats, ships and objects of predefined cross-section floating on water. This includes any aircraft that ditches and remains on the surface during satellite over-flight. Its abilities further include but are not limited to setting range rings in restricted areas which when penetrated by an intruder, triggers an alarm thereby alerting the operator/watchkeeper.
Indeed, this facility which was instrumental to the rescue of a Ghanaian flagged vessel hijacked by pirates off the coast of Ghana in June 2014 can also be used to see beyond the territorial waters of Nigeria; identify ship positions in real time which can greatly enhance search and rescue and plot search and rescue patterns. It can also be used to detect vessels that switch off their Automatic Identification System (AIS) and interrogate the satellite image for more information.
I‚Äôm glad you were onboard the demonstration flight to Bonga and you saw the ATR 42-500 MPA performing the surveillance functions. From far above the skies, we can detect vessels and monitor what is going on the sea without the vessels and occupants knowing. We know the vessels sail route, we know where know the vessels that ought to be where at any point in time. So, if any vessel is not where it ought to be as designed, we certainly know that something is wrong and swing into action. The war against sea criminals is a sophisticated one and we‚Äôre ahead of them with this partnership with the military.
Again, we‚Äôre upgrading our Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) in Lagos, Bonny and Oron, and the Radar installation in Escravos Bonny and Takwa Bay in Lagos will complement the satellite facility and further boost our domain awareness response capability when fully operational.
Manpower drought is one of the challenges facing the nation‚Äôs maritime sector and in line with out plans to replenish the depleted manpower stock in the industry, NIMASA came up with the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) in 2008. As a regulatory agency, we specifically place emphasis on human capacity development for the present and the future to ensure the potentials of the industry are fully harnessed. In fact, I am glad to inform you that well over 2,500 young Nigerians have benefitted or are currently enjoying various levels of sponsorship in schools in the United Kingdom, Egypt, Romania, India and Philippines, under the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme, which started five years ago as I earlier mentioned.
Indeed, the first set of 23 qualified seafarers under the scheme have already emerged from the Arab Academy for Science Technology and Maritime Transport, Egypt having completed their sea time training and earned their Certificates of Competencies (CoC). That‚Äôs not all, I can categorically tell you that 14 of them graduated with First Class Honours, while one of our students emerged the best overall graduating student from the Institution this year.
Despite that, we are not relenting in our quest to ensure that all beneficiaries of this programme acquire sea time training, which was a challenge in the past. At the moment, 51 of our students are at sea acquiring their sea time experience on various ocean-going vessels. Another set of 33 are also ready to join their colleagues at sea before the end of August 2014.
The NSDP is done in partnership with state governments. With Plateau State recently coming on board, we now have 17 states working with NIMASA to sponsor young Nigerians for the NSDP. Let me use this opportunity to urge other states to embrace this programme.
Interestingly, we‚Äôve introduced a programme for ratings. 200 beneficiaries will be going to the Philippines, while 100 are billed to proceed to Malaysia for training.
We have no doubt that in the next five years, Nigeria would have produced a sizeable number of seafarers.
The Nigeria Maritime University
Yes! The university is on progress. While we acknowledge the medium term gains of the NSDP, the agency is mindful of the huge funds expended on the programme. As a forward-looking management, this administration has tailored a long-term solution to the dearth of qualified professionals in the Nigerian Maritime sector; hence it conceived the Nigerian Maritime University (NMU).
The university will produce high level manpower for Nigeria‚Äôs maritime/shipping sector on sustainable basis. It will provide training for seafarers, master mariners, marine engineers, naval architects, nautical scientists and other specialised maritime/shipping trade skills. The NMU is envisaged to become a Centre for Excellence in innovative research for the maritime sector in the West and Central Africa sub-region when it fully evolves.
Few months ago, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan performed the ground-breaking ceremony of the University at Okerenkoko and also flagged-off activities at the university‚Äôs temporary site in Kurutie, both in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State. There is an on-going effort to source for technical collaboration with foreign maritime institutions. This partnership will assist NMU to develop a structural academic programme, which is essential to strengthening the quality of the university‚Äôs training programmes.
Academic activities are expected to commence shortly at the institution, and we would continue to discharge our statutory obligations to the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron in order to further grow human capacity in the Maritime sector. The NIMASA Shipyard and Dockyar is another capacity building initiative. You will recall that President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan also performed the groundbreaking ceremonies for the NIMASA Shipyard and Dockyard, also located in Okerenkoko. Our vision is to transform the maritime sector into an industry that will generate capable local manpower, which will contribute significantly to the nation‚Äôs Gross Domestic Product.
The vision behind the shipyard and dockyard project is to have an excellent building and repair facility that will be commercially viable to transform the nation‚Äôs economy. The project is being developed in two phases. Phase one is the ship building facility to¬† handle smaller vessels and maintain ships plying the nation‚Äôs inland waterways while the second phase is planned for a facility that will handle ocean-going vessels and offshore installations which will serve the oil and gas industry.
The ship and dockyard facility is a response to a major infrastructural capacity gap that has negatively affected the sector‚Äôs performance. An important pillar of our Cabotage regime is possession of indigenous capacity to build and maintain vessels for the Cabotage trade. Having in-country capacity for shipbuilding and maintenance is very crucial for the attainment of the Cabotage policy objectives. It is in pursuit of this critical requirement that we conceived the shipyard/dockyard facility.
Another important reason for undertaking the project is that the ship and dockyard facility will support the university by providing opportunity for the practical training of naval architects, marine, communication and control engineers. The physical proximity of the ship and dockyard facility to the university is deliberately conceived to facilitate adequate practical training of students in requisite areas.
The present leadership of the agency has given priority attention to both infrastructural and human capital development. This is in recognition of the fact that this forms the basic requirement to grow any sector. We identify the fact that a well trained workforce provides the ingredient for a highly productive sector.
At NIMASA, training and retraining of dockworkers is an ongoing exercise. In the first half of this year, 1,497 dockworkers have benefited directly from various training programmes. Eight hundred and ten (810) seafarers have also enjoyed Standard of Training, Certification and Watch Keeping (STCW ‚Äô95) training within the past six months. This is to bring them up to date with the amended basic mandatory training, tanker familiarisation, and engine/deck watch keeping, amongst other programmes.
The issue of sea time training had been a major challenge for our seafarers in the past. Our policy of quietly placing seafarers on board Cabotage vessels has recorded tremendous success. At the moment, 3,938 seafarers and 44 cadets are at sea onboard Cabotage vessels through this our policy. In Nigeria, we have adopted the Maritime Labour Convention of 2006 (MLC 2006). It is now operational in Nigeria. The adoption and subsequent ratification of the MLC 2006 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) by Nigeria has brought to the country national and international recognition. Before the entry into force of the convention, the agency trained MLC 2006 inspectors with the assistance of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and held special sessions with ship owners, shipping agents and seafarers‚Äô employers to intimate the stakeholders on their obligations to the convention. The MLC 2006 is now fully operational in Nigeria and enforcement has started in earnest with applicable sanctions for defaulters.
Enforcing compliance with ISPS Code and maritime regulations¬†
Yes! Let me say that part of our efforts to boost safety and security within and outside our sea shores is the vigorous pursuance of compliance with the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code. We minced no words about compliance with this important code and as the Designated Authority (DA), we followed this through. Interestingly, the results are indeed tremendous and so far, 22 port facilities in Nigeria are now compliant with the ISPS Code. The United States Government through the US Coast Guard also confirmed this and to us in NIMASA, it is a remarkable improvement from nine certified port facilities since the last visit of the United States Coast Guard. The figure is expected to rise when the report of the ISPS code compliance team who visited the country last April is released. I need to mention that the US Coast Guard has consistently assisted NIMASA with training of personnel and other logistics on the ISPS code,
NIMASA has embarked on another Verification Inspection Exercise (VIE) of Port facilities to enforce compliance with the code.
In addition, our Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS), when fully integrated with the satellite system, will provide domain awareness for our waterways. It is equipped with VHF Radio, satellite phones and the INMARSAT.
I need to state categorically that our Public Private Partnership project which concessioned the supply, operation, management and maintenance of operational platforms and associated electronic surveillance systems to an indigenous marine company, Messers Global West Vessels Specialist Limited (GWSVSL) has made it possible for the Agency today to enforce maritime regulations. Prior to the concession contract, we were practically constrained to enforce regulations and undertake any meaningful field operations as expected of a Maritime Administration. We have successfully reversed the trend as we now have complete patrol of our maritime domain with considerable capability to respond to marine emergencies within a reasonable period.
The PPP project has also made it possible for the Agency to provide suitable platforms to the relevant security agencies collaborating with us to fight piracy and other sundry security breaches in our waters. You are all aware of the number of rescue operations we have successfully carried out as well as the numerous tracking interdiction and arrest of vessels engaged in criminal activities in our waters.
National carrier project
I‚Äôm glad that question is raised. You see, NIMASA has equally been at the forefront in bringing alive the Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiative that has been very productive under the government of President Goodluck Jonathan. It is based on this premise that the agency is working at actualising the establishment of a National Carrier line. The National Carrier Shipping Line will re-establish the presence of Nigerian flag in international waters; provide training and retraining of the Nigerian seafarers while also serving as a catalyst for shipping development in the country with a resultant positive impact on the nation‚Äôs economy. Let me quickly emphasize that the new national carrier line will be largely driven by the private sector that will be solely responsible for the operation and management of the company. The details of the modalities and concept will be unfolded soon.
However, the National Carrier line can benefit from Nigerian content development policy, the Cabotage Law, the Public Sector Cargo Support Scheme that provides for exclusive carriage right of all public sector cargoes (federal, state and local government levels) for indigenous carriers and so on. Even the NNPC enabling instrument provides for at least, 50% carriage right for Nigerian carriers of all hydrocarbon affreightment by the corporation.
If you go to Section 35 (A-G) of the NIMASA Act 2007, it stipulates the requirements for the granting of a National Carrier status by the Honourable Minister of Transport, on the recommendation of NIMASA. All applications made to NIMASA would be considered against the requirements stated in the NIMASA Act 2007 and companies that meet these requirements will certainly be recommended to the Hon. Minister of Transport for the granting of National Carrier licences. Indeed, I‚Äôve to make it clear that there can be more than one National Carrier in Nigeria‚Äôs shipping industry and no one that meets the requirements would be discriminated against.