Captain Taiwo Akinpelumi is a member of the Nigerian Shipowners Association (NISA) Steering Committee. In this interview with Shulammite Foyeku, he shares his thoughts on the recent move by the Federal Ministry of Transportation to take over the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF). He also assesses the first 100 days of Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Bashir Jamoh in office, among other issues.
What is your take on the recent move by the Federal Ministry of Transportation to take over the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF)?
It is a known fact that NIMASA is the only statutory body that is saddled with the management and the operational side of the CVFF. The report is rife in the industry that the Minister of Transport wants the money moved to Fidelity Bank but of course, we all know that is illegal and there is no basis for the fund to be moved from the CBN. We have submitted our position severally concerning the CVFF and apart from the fact that the fund needs to be audited, it is a known fact that the fund is supposed to be in excess of what we are hearing it is now. The fact that the money has not been disbursed since the Cabotage Act has been in operation is not good for the industry. So, we vehemently oppose any move to transfer that fund from the CBN to any commercial bank under any guise. With the operation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA), there is no basis to move that fund from CBN to any commercial bank because part of our position is that the money can be disbursed and paid from the CBN to any beneficiary. This is a very serious issue and we must make the necessary noise about it because it is illegal. Nobody should start transferring money to any commercial bank in the name of the Ministry of Transportation because the ministry does not have the mandate to manage CVFF. So the Minister has no authority to move the fund, he can give directives but he should not give any directive that is illegal. Everything we have to do concerning the CVFF must be guided by the Cabotage Act. Anything short of that, we will resist it.
What is your assessment of the first 100 days of Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Bashir Jamoh in office?
His performance has been satisfactory considering the global pandemic that actually disrupted a lot of activities. The DG came in shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic and that actually set a lot of business activities backward. The pandemic has actually put a lot of things on hold. When Jamoh became the DG, he confided in stakeholders that one of his top priorities is to see to the quick disbursement of Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF). Unfortunately, with the COVID-19, there are a lot of dotting the i and crossing the t of the guidelines for the disbursement of CVFF. In the areas of operational responsibility in NIMASA, the DG has been forthcoming. For instance, we are aware of the waiver granted to STCW ‘95 and other survey inspection and certification of vessels and marine notices to curtail and checkmate the COVID-19 pandemic and the concerted effort being put in place in the areas of maritime security where recently he received a letter of commendation from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on the dogged effort put in place to fight piracy and sea robbery. I am not unmindful of the fact that there is still a lot to be done but within the limited days in office and considering the circumstances surrounding his emergence as the head of the agency, I will say he has done pretty well but we expect that in the coming days ahead, he would hit the ground running to make sure that most of the promises are actualized. The most important thing is to have that political will to make a difference and I can see that in him. He is putting up his best to make sure that the industry is better for it.
One of the promises made by the NIMASA DG while presenting his achievements in his first 100 days in office is to ensure the deployment of the floating dock in no distant time. What are your thoughts on the proposed partnership between NIMASA and NPA to manage the dockyard?
I am aware that talks are ongoing to consummate the partnership between NIMASA and NPA concerning the floating dock. The floating dock we all know transcends this administration, so any arrangement that will put the dock into operation considering the cost it has incurred over the years will have our support. We support a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement to manage the floating dock because anything managed by the government in terms of efficiency cannot be guaranteed but if a private organisation runs it, there will be value for money. I don’t know the details of the arrangement between NIMASA and NPA but I believe at the end of the day, they will still engage a consultant that understands the business of shipyard and dry docking management to be part of the joint venture.
Recently, some Niger Delta groups urged the Federal Government to relocate the floating dock from the Lagos waters to the region. Do you subscribe to the request?
I won’t subscribe to politicizing the matter. If there is a shipyard that can take this floating dock, that could put it into use efficiently in the Niger Delta, no problem. We have maritime institutions in Niger Delta, so also we have maritime institutions in other parts of the country. So training can take place in any part you have maritime activities taking place. If the dockyard is put into use properly here in Lagos, students can come from Niger Delta if NIMASA wants students to go through training there. They can still come for their training in Lagos. We should not start saying the floating dock has to be in Niger Delta or Lagos, it should be anywhere conducive where maximum benefit could be derived. If the plan is to establish it in Lagos and put it in operation, so be it. More so, I do not think there is a place that has been prepared to receive the floating dock in the Niger Delta. So how long do we have to wait to put the floating dock into use?
Let’s talk about the Nigerian Shipowners Association (NISA) election. As a member of the steering committee, you have the mandate to ensure election is conducted for new executives in the first quarter of this year. Can you bring us up to speed with what you have done in that regard?
Our mandate was to steer the affairs of the association to make sure that election takes place in March but going by the mandate given to the steering committee, we know it was a huge task for us and we would need some time to executive it. So we went back to members, and called an expanded meeting and they extended our mandate till April but unfortunately, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing protocol, it was not possible for us to roll out all our programmes. That is what actually delayed the election. But the mandate given to us is still there. We are still well positioned and focused to follow the mandate to a logical conclusion. Now that they are trying to open up the economy with a lot of activities coming up, we are hoping that from August, we will be repositioning the association again to meet and discuss the issue of election and AGM.
How would you assess the impact of the COVID- 19 pandemic on shipowners operations?
The impact is severe but it is not synonymous to Nigeria alone. It is a global problem and every flag administration is trying to resolve it within the best of their ability. COVID-19 is a novel disease, which has just manifested and so a nation will have to structure its operation according to the set out safety measures that are designed to curtail it. What is important for shipowners at this time should be the wellbeing of seafarers and the managers of ships. So as far as Nigeria is concerned, there are a couple of marine notices that has come out by the flag administration with close monitoring of activities by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) advising flag states to put up the administrative measures necessary to ensure that maritime trade is not halted due to the pandemic and it is done bearing in mind the safety of seafarers in particular.
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