By Francis Ugwoke
In the next few months, Nigeria will head to London as part of the meeting of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) which comes up in November.
IMO is an apex world regulatory agency as far as the maritime industry is concerned. Members states¬† are maritime nations whose level of development in seaborne trade cannot be in doubt. But beyond this, IMO sets out standards for members to be in its White List, even as council members. While Nigeria remains in the White List,¬† its¬† current status is shaky for obvious reasons.
Having lost council membership for a long time now, remaining in the White List appears conditional. It has up till next year to fulfill certain conditions.
With massive coastal waters, impressive vessel and cargo traffic, Nigeria appears not appealing enough to the chieftains of IMO as having satisfied all requirements to¬† have a reputable place in the¬† global¬† apex maritime agency.
This has in turn posed a challenge to the¬† management of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) which has since last year developed strategies¬† to fulfill all requirements to return to IMO as¬† a Council member and be firm on the agency‚Äôs White List.
The challenges of Nigeria‚Äôs council membership in IMO are enormous. It is the same for its being strong on the White List. In recent past, Nigeria has been ranked as one of the countries that have become notorious for cases of piracy.
International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in its recent report ranked Nigeria as almost overtaking Somalia on issues of piracy. Although, this is being contested as unfair report, that has remained the position of IMB, a security monitoring agency of the IMO.
The other issue against Nigeria include allegations that the country‚Äôs indigenous fleet expansion is nothing so much to write home about.
The probable feeling of IMO is that Nigeria‚Äôs shipping industry with all the impressive volume of trade is dominated by multinational agencies with little to talk about in terms of indigenous participation.
IMO wants Nigeria‚Äôs indigenous involvement in shipping to be substantial and probably above the involvement of foreigners. Besides, most Nigerian ships concentrate in oil and gas business.¬† There is hardly any Nigerian vessel that is into containerized trade or bulk carriage trade.
To shipping experts, this trend has not helped in deepening the industry.
Even in wet cargo trade where Nigerian shipping companies appear to be specialists, the fact is that many of them trade on the crumbs¬† left from their foreign counterparts. Or better still, many of the Nigerian shipping companies are sub-contractors to those who have direct link to¬† either the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)¬† or the multinational oil and gas companies.
This is notwithstanding the local content law and the 10years of the Cabotage Law that reserves wet cargos for transportation within the coastal waters to Nigerian shipping companies alone.
The effect is that Nigeria‚Äôs human capital is not growing as far as shipping sector is concerned.
And this is one of the issues that IMO probably holds against Nigeria, experts say. While NIMASA has been laboring and spending heavily to address the issue of human capacity building, the efforts appear¬† to be suffering erosion with the poor level of indigenous shipping fleet.
A member of the Senate Committee on Maritime, Prof Benedict Ayade, who expressed concern that some of the IMO standards have not been met, said he¬† is optimistic that the¬† leadership of NIMASA is addressing the issues.
Ayade had in an interview with THISDAYcriticized¬† IMB for ranking Nigeria as next¬† or equal to¬† Somalia on the issue of piracy, adding that this is being exaggerated.
‚ÄúA situation in which the Gulf of Guinea has been rated as the most pirate-prone route¬† and premiums have gone¬† up in all the vessels‚Ä¶‚Ä¶ I think the assessment is unfair. The Gulf of Guinea has not suffered the level of piracy that I know in other routes. Why the Gulf of Guinea in the whole world!. So, it calls for worry‚Äù, he¬† said.
Ayade recalled the Singaporean experience¬† when¬† the country was ranked as also a piracy zone area, adding that the country fought this before¬† her name was dropped¬† from the negative position.
He insists that Nigeria must do everything to be in the mainstream IMO to be able to fight her course.
‚ÄùLook at the Singaporean experience, they put a team¬† together, they gathered statistics globally and argued that Singapore is not the place¬† you must give that high rating of¬† piracy.
And within one year, they dropped their name from the list, because they fought back. Because they had a team, they had articulated their position based on international statistics.
That is why we must come in this year, because if we don‚Äôt do that, the premium must continue for every vessel coming to Nigeria, the insurance premium‚Ä¶. you will pay through your nose .
That will add to the¬† domestic cost and goods in Nigeria‚Äù, he said. Noting that maritime administration is the statutory responsibility NIMASA, he¬† however, said that¬† other maritime operators, including Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) must be involved¬† in what will make Nigeria¬† remain comfortable in the IMO White list.
Executive Secretary, Institute of Marine¬† Engineers,¬† Engr. Alexander Peters told THISDAY that Nigeria has a lot¬† to do to return as a council member as well as affirm her being on the¬† IMO White List. Noting that Nigeria‚Äôs IMO status remains shaky, Peters said that¬† Nigeria must set a proper programme that is truly indigenous for maritime development of human capacity.
He noted that so much trainings have been conducted overseas for Nigerian seafarers by NIMASA, and¬† urged the management of the apex¬† agency here to¬† consider patronizing¬† Nigerian¬† institutions, like Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron, among others, where¬† Certificate of Competence (COC) can be issued locally instead of relying on what comes from India and¬† Malaysia.
He¬† said that what is even sad is that most of the cadets after undergoing training abroad come back to remain without job, a situation which, according to him,¬† does not encourage¬† human development practically.
‚ÄúThere should be Nigerian condition in training. Plethora of certificates without taking¬† into consideration our standard is not the best‚Äù, he¬† said.
He decried a situation where 80 to 90 per cent of shipping companies in the country have remained in comatose with everyone going for oil and¬† gas contract, adding that this explains why seafarers trained abroad have no jobs. He called on the government to encourage fleet expansion so that trained seafarers gain employment.
Peters also called on states like Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Delta states to consider setting up shipping companies that will trade and employ as many seafarers as possible.
In his view, indigenous fleet expansion will contribute in affirming Nigeria‚Äôs status in the IMO. He recalled the National Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) in which NIMASA planned to contribute 60 percent and states 40 percent, and said it does not appear that the states have shown¬† any interest, apart from Benue.
This development, according to him was not the best.
Apparently aware of what being in the IMO White List means to Nigeria,¬† the management of NIMASA has been involved in a number of programmes to develop indigenous shipping.
Although the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF)¬† is yet¬† to fully take-off, the groundwork has been completed, remaining for the Presidency to give a final approval for the¬† disbursement of about $200million as loans to lucky indigenous shipping companies to acquire their own vessels.
The local shipping companies who will benefit from the fund¬† are expected to contribute 15 percent of the funding of such acquisition. Our Correspondent who could not reach the Deputy Director, Public Relations, NIMASA, Mr. Isichei Osamgbi, as at the time of filing this report, was however informed by another senior official that the apex maritime institution was doing everything to¬† be in the Council of IMO and¬† be in the White List.
He disclosed that NIMASA has been involved in building capacity for flag administration and has attracted a number of Nigerian experts as part of its workforce.
He also said that the agency has been fully out to address the issue of piracy, adding that very soon, IMB will have nothing against Nigeria as far as sea robbery is concerned.
He identified aggressive training programmes for Nigerian seafarers, automation of seafarers data bank as¬† part of the efforts to ensure that Nigeria enjoys a pride of place in the IMO white list.
He identified the current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed with the Nigeria Air Force recently as part of the efforts to ensure maritime safety on the coastal waters.