As a former President of the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners, are you happy with the state of manpower in the maritime industry. Do we have all that we need; manpower wise for the industry?
Obviously the answer is no. A capital no because Nigeria stopped training since the demise of the Nigeria National Shipping Line (NNSL) and individuals can’t do this job alone. In our days, shipping companies had to sponsor cadets. No maritime institution in the United Kingdom will admit any student without a shipping company sponsoring that cadet to that institution. But we don’t have situations like that now. You can see that private individuals are the ones going to the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), Oron and it takes them even longer time to qualify because of lack of ships because without ships, they cannot do practical; without the practical, they will not be eligible to write their professional exams. So we lack manpower in our sector and we have been crying about this and you know we are ageing and we keep asking; where are the people to take over from us? You can see even at my age, I am still lecturing here and there; just to impact the knowledge on the younger ones to bring them up but we have a problem of capacity in terms of ships where these students and cadets will have experience to do their practical and professional examination and it is a big challenge.
So what you are saying is that it is abnormal for an individual to wake up and look for the money to train as a master?
It is abnormal. It is not part of what the industry practice should be.
Before now it was the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) and Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) that trained mariners?
Nigeria National Petroleum Cooperation (NNPC) also trained!
Even NNPC was training people?
Yes! Even NNPC trained people and most of the people they trained are in Mobil now.
So why did these organizations stop training?
Are they not government agencies? It is this issue of government policy. If you have a very good policy on ground, nobody can change it, whether there is change of government or not. We must have a solid shipping policy whereby all the sectors that have to do with shipping must train cadets. It is done everywhere in the world. You must train people for your purpose. Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited (NNLG) is doing the same. NLNG is the one I give kudos to now, they are training Nigerians since inception for themselves for their gas tankers only. I know NPA is doing its best at least they are training Marine Pilots but they still need more manpower that will take over from the aging harbor masters, and those who will be manning their survey vessels, dredgers etc, they still need more manpower. NPA is trying but they can do more.
There is this thing that the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) came up with. They call it the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP).It is supposed to be an arrangement where the state government will bring 60 percent of the cost for training their indigenes as seafarers and NIMASA, which is the federal government pay 40 percent. What do you think of that arrangement?
Well, in fairness to NIMASA, they answered to the wakeup call by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO); the Go to Sea programme. Remember that theme some years back because there is shortage of manpower, it is a global problem. You know what I am talking about. That programme is a very good one. If you look at it, at our association’s last annual general meeting; I had to make the NIMASA executive director; Marine, Captain Ezekiel Bala Agaba, to tell us what the policy statement of NIMASA regarding the NSDP is because people have been complaining that they sent one thousand five hundred cadets for training and they are still coming back to this same industry. What is going to happen to them? And he came out and said this is what NIMASA has been doing. For each institution they’ve gone to, all those institutions have training ships so as soon as they finish they go to their training ships for practical experience. So I think that has solved the problem of those who are going outside the country. Our problems lay within the country, cadets that come from MAN, Oron and other maritime training institutions.
No ship to train?
No ships. That is our biggest problem. Maritime training institutions need training ships. It’s all over the world. Like the maritime academy in Alexandria Egypt, they have a training ship and some of these NSDP cadets are also in Egypt. So as soon as they finish their training, they go to the ship to get the sea time before they can then write their professional exam. Our problem is just the cadets in MAN, Oron. I have been reading your stories about indigenous ship owners going down and that is the fact of the case. They are really going down and they are in pains.
Why do you think Nigerian ship owners are in pain? Ship owning is suppose to be a lucrative thing, an elitist thing. We have the cargo, so what’s the problem, we have the law.
Yes we have the cargo, we have the law. The Cabotage Law to support the indigenous ship but the main issue is having the right ships. I was telling people that why NNSL went down was because we couldn’t compete favourably with foreign companies. One, all the ships were getting old about the same time. They were due for dry docking about the same time. They were due for survey and turn around maintenance about the same time. All these cost a lot of money and by the time they are going off to the dry dock, they are not earning any money. Now also, modern vessel can carry more cargo than our ships because it was a function of economy of scale. I read stories in your paper about Maersk Line bringing in bigger ships. In our days the largest number of number of containers we could carry was five hundred TEUs.
Yes, 16,000 tons. Whereas a 16,000 ton vessel nowadays can carry up to 2,000 TEUs so you are on a losing side to start with.
There is a new ship now that can carry 18,000 TEUs.
Can you imagine? So we are losing money, freight-earning wise. Then how about our bunker consumption was is high. Our engines were big and we were using quite a lot of bunker. So the running costs for the vessels were becoming higher than for a vessel that operates nowadays on economy speed. So you can see our problems and these problems are being faced by today’s ship owners too. They have got old tonnages and these ships are not maintained and also when they don’t get jobs for the ships, the running cost continues everyday because you must still feed the crew , you must still pay their salaries and as you have a crew on board you must pay them wether the ship is working or not and they must be fed. They must be given water because that’s what the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006) is all about and you must buy bunker because the vessel has to keep running. You know what happened when some ships were washed ashore. Most of those ships didn’t have bunker on board. So even when the vessel engines were working; there were no fuel to start the engines with for them to run to safety. So you can see the problem; the problem of maintaining the vessels which are old tonnages is a big problem for the ship owners and that is where we need the support of government with this Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) and then the maintenance fund that NIMASA has set aside to repair a few of the vessels. If these things can happen, if these vessels could come back to work again then, they will meet international standards again and then there will be no discrimination about foreign vessel and then kicking the indigenous away from coming alongside to do ship to ship (STS) transfer with them. So I think government needs to look closely into their problems and see how they can assist them. I know it’s not easy. I know some have borrowed money from banks and are finding it difficult to pay and some are even losing their properties. I’ve heard about it, it’s a statement of fact. And the banks are using the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) to pursue them about; you know it has not been easy for them at all. I have always suggested one thing that if we are allowed to export our crude oil, on Cost, Insurance and Freight ( CIF), not the Free on Board (FOB) trade term the government is still using; Nigeria is the only OPEC member that still doesn’t carry their own product for export. You can see how much money we are losing.