Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi said on Thursday that he has no knowledge of any Cabotage law waiver granted to foreign vessels to operate in Nigeria’s coastal trade.
The Coastal and Inland Shipping Act 2003, also known as the Cabotage Act, which came into force in 2004, reserves the commercial transportation of goods and services within Nigeria’s coastal and inland waters to vessels flying Nigerian flag. Such vessels must also be owned and crewed by Nigerian citizens, and built in Nigeria.
According to the law, a foreign vessel can only operate in Nigeria’s coastal and inland waters if it obtains an approval from the Minister of Transport waiving the above-stated requirements.
Speaking on Thursday in Abuja when he appeared before the Senate Joint Committee on Local Content, Downstream Petroleum and Legislative Compliance, the Minister said he was not aware of any waiver given to the vessels by the Director-General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
The committee is investigating alleged breach of Nigerian laws by foreign vessels in coastal shipping of petroleum products in the downstream sector of the Nigerian Maritime Industry.
Meanwhile, the Senate has summoned Amaechi and Director- General of NIMASA, Bashir Jamoh, to appear before the committee to answer the issue on the waiver.
Speaking further, Amaechi said, “I have never interfered with the process of governance of any structure that I superintend over. So if NIMASA says I know what they are doing, I don’t know.
“I just saw it when they wrote to me and said I should answer the Senate. I have not approved any. He (the Director-General) should run to me if he wants a waiver approved. This is nothing on my table from 2015 to today, I don’t have any waiver on my table.
“First they claimed that none had been issued; I do not even know until recently that you have to issue a waiver.
“For you to know as a Minister, the Director-General is supposed to write to request for approval. And now no request for approval is on my table or that has been on my table since 2015 till today.”
On whether there was such a request of waivers in the Ministry before he became Minister, Amaechi said, “I have not checked that. I have to confirm that by asking the Permanent Secretary to do a study to find out if there was any before we came.
“But from the day I assumed duty in 2016 till today, I have never sighted any request. In 2010; 168 persons applied for waivers. It wasn’t before me. 2011 – 208 applied not before me; 2012 – 333 persons; 2013 – 448; 2014 – 377 and 2015 – 413 persons applied.
“I came in 2016. In that year, 374 persons applied but I didn’t see their application.”
Amaechi, who pledged to work with the National Assembly to ensure that Nigerians had the maximum benefits in such relationships, said, “There is first, the need to call NIMASA and see what is going on; what is the status of the vessels that are operating in Nigeria.
“The basic thing in Nigerian waterway is not even those foreigners. It is the level of insecurity and the fact that the National Assembly has refused to pass the law approving the setting up of Coast Guard which would have been the saving grace of all these.
“It is the Coast Guard that would have found who is operating and who is not.”
Earlier, Chairman Senate Committee on Local Content Senator Teslim Folarin, said the committee was mandated to carry out an investigation with a view to unraveling the influx of foreign vessels in the coastal region and the level of patronage of Nigerian Shipping Companies.
He said the committee will also investigate the flagrant abuse of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act 2010, the Cabotage Act 2003 and ship-to-ship transfer on foreign vessels.