The story of the defunct Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) is a fitting narrative of the topsy-turvy state of affairs of the nation’s shipping sector. The total mess in NNSL led to the loss of vast opportunities and fortunes by Nigeria. Conversely, its success story would have been a worthy development model.
It is with these reasons in mind that I plan to discuss NNSL in this column over the next few weeks. Perhaps, there is a remote chance that those who decide the fate of the shipping sector will rise above narrow interests and learn some vital lessons for the sake of our collective good. My views here have been published as part of the book, Arrested Development, which was released in 2012 by AuthorHouse, United Kingdom.
Nigerian National Shipping Line Limited (NNSL) was to take off with an initial capital of £400,000 with which it was to buy one fairly used ship and charter two but in April 1959 when the company eventually took off, government announced an increase of this amount to £1 million and mandated the company to buy two second-hand ships and charter one. This amount was further increased to £2 million thus setting it on a firm financial footing.

NNSL was admitted to the West African Lines Conference (WALCON) in 1959 and the WALCON agreement was to be in force for two years when it would be renegotiated. Other members of WALCON were Black Star Line Limited (Ghana’s national line formed during the country’s independence in 1957), Elder Dempster Lines, Palm Line, Guinea Gulf Line owned by John Holt, Holland West Africa Line, Woermann Line and Scandinavian West Africa Line.
Under the WALCON agreement, NNSL was to operate a fleet of six ships in 1959 which was to be increased to eight in 1960 and 10 in 1961.
With its relatively strong financial base, NNSL took off by purchasing three second-hand ships. Its first ship was bought from Buries Markes Lines of London. It bought a ship named La Sierra from Buries Markes and renamed it Dan Fodio after the late Sultan of Sokoto, Shehu Usman dan Fodio. The ship was built in 1950 and was 141.5 metres long with 6,189 gross tons.
Dan Fodio sailed from London on her first voyage to Lagos and Port Harcourt on 23rd May 1959. The ship served NNSL for 15 years and was sold in 1974 to Exeter Navigation Company of Cyprus also known as S.C. Vazeos. Her new owner rechristened her Fos.
Oduduwa, NNSL’s second ship which was also acquired almost at the same time with Dan Fodio in May 1959 was built in 1954 as North Cornwall for the North Shipping Company of Newcastle and was acquired in 1959 by the newly formed Nigerian National Shipping Line. Oduduwa was 138.49 metres in length with 5,570 gross tons.

On Ships Nostalgia Forum, I stumbled on an interesting post by one Derek who claimed to have worked on Oduduwa which he erroneously referred to as NNSL’s first ship. On 22nd December 2005, Derek wrote that under arrangements made with Elder Dempster and Palm Line, the vessels acquired by NNSL would be managed and operated by these companies until such time that Nigeria had recruited and/or trained personnel to operate the ships.
Consequently, the Oduduwa was staffed with Elder Dempster personnel.
“I had the dubious honour to be appointed 4th Engineer (later promoted to 3rd). We joined the ship on 11th May 1959 in Redhead’s yard in South Shields where she was undergoing repairs. This was quite a culture shock for the refined young gentlemen of Elder Dempster. Although she was not very old, the ship was showing signs of neglect. The main engine was a 4 cylinder North Eastern Marine Doxford along with steam and engine driven auxiliaries. There was a three fire Scotch boiler for cargo work and a Cochrane type auxiliary boiler, the entire plant needing a lot of work”, Derek wrote.

Copyright Ships & Ports Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit given to as the source.