NIMASA is alive to its responsibilities
Appointed Director-General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in the twilight of last year, Mr.Ziadeke Patrick Akpobolokemi appears to have impacted appreciably on the maritime sector locally and internationally, as he himself affirmed while fielding questions from BOLAJI AKINOLA recently in his office at the NIMASA headquarters, Maritime House, Burma Road, Apapa, Lagos.
Assess the level of Nigeria’s domestication of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) conventions.
We have made good success in terms of domestication of IMO conventions. At least 33 of IMO conventions are domesticated by Nigeria. So we have made significant progress, and we are also making efforts to domesticate more conventions.
How active is Nigeria in the IMO?
Virtually all the IMO activities, Nigeria has been participating. We have not been sitting on the fence. We’ve chaired subcommittees, and, recently, our Director in Marine Environment Management Department was made a consultant to IMO because of the significant contributions we are making.
How has NIMASA been battling the issue of piracy and armed robbery at sea, considering the importance of this issue to IMO?
That is where we have demonstrated our will and capacity before Nigerians and the international community. It’s a matter we have the necessary muscles to control and checkmate.
Piracy before now was high in our territorial waters and the neighbouring states.
We have launched a lot of patrols; we have an MoU with the Nigerian Navy which has helped us in addressing the issue of piracy. We have reduced the issue of piracy in the Lagos area to over 80 percent.
We have strengthened the safety in the Lagos area by going into Benin Republic, the territorial waters of Benin Republic, and we have been able to chase away all the pirates there.
You know before we went there, the President of Benin Republic complained that they had piracy attacks that virtually crippled the economy of Benin Republic, because the country survives through shipping. Now a month after we took responsibility in checkmating the activities of pirates, that is the anti-piracy campaign, there has not been any successful attack on ships by pirates.
In fact, we have recorded almost 100 percent success in that area, and we are assuring the international community that we can take away piracy from the entire territorial waters and the high sea and our exclusive economic zone (EEC).
We have fared well in our anti-piracy campaign and we are re-enforcing that determination by going to other areas that are yet to be covered Port-Harcourt, Warri and Calabar.
NIMASA has done well, and we are assuring the international community that very soon we will completely take away piracy from the entire territorial waters of Nigeria and the neighbouring states that are critical to our survival.
Often times Nigeria is mentioned immediately after Somalia in terms of frequency of piracy attacks, will you consider this fair?
It is an exaggeration; we are nowhere near the Somalia situation. What I feel is that the expectation from Nigeria to control piracy even within the sub-region is so high; whatever that happens in Togo, Benin Republic, it is assumed that Nigeria should have come to help them. It is that premise that they have rated us next to Somalia. We are very far away from the Somalia situation. We are a decent country, fighting piracy. It’s an organised government, a well consolidated democracy that we have. So the issue of comparing us to a failed state doesn’t arise in the first place.
What do we actually have in Nigeria? Is it piracy or sea robbery?
Well, from IMO definition of piracy, what we have is sea robbery. But, of course, because it affects international and domestic ships and vessels, we are looking at the attacks rather than the definition. We are looking at the negative consequence of these criminalities rather than the appropriateness of the definition, whether it is piracy attack or it’s a sea robbery attack or whether they are sea robbery attacks or piracy attacks.
So the issue is that criminal attacks, armed gangs are disturbing, attacking vessels, kidnapping taking ransom, killing, causing a lot of havoc. We are not too concerned about whether it’s piracy; our own duty is to create a peaceful maritime environment for domestic and international trade to survive. That is our concern.
How well has Nigeria fared in the area of search and rescue operations?
That is where we are excelling and that is where we are also consolidating the gains we have made so far. There have been so many search and rescue since this agency came into practical reality.
This year alone, we’ve made fantastic progress in search and rescue effort. You could recall there was a vessel called MT Jacksonville that had some explosion, there was a distress call, we immediately dispatched our search and rescue team that went there and rescued 10 Indians that would have died if we had not acted proactively or acted very fast.
There are avalanche of cases, too many to even think about, and we have not been found wanting in any of these cases that we have been called upon for search and rescue.
We host a Regional Search and Rescue Co-ordination Centre, can you, please, talk about that?
The IMO in 2008 came here and commissioned our Regional Search and Rescue Co-ordinating Centre. The evidence is that Nigeria is given the responsibility for search and rescue in the sub-region.
It is very effective and, of course, without it, the search and rescue gains we’ve made so far wouldn’t have come, we wouldn’t have succeeded. It is effective. The centre is working 24 hours and we are gradually expanding it so that we would become more and more efficient in terms of search and rescue. And it’s because of that perception of the world, IMO has given us the mandate within the sub-region to carry out search and rescue.
So they also view that if they are piracy attacks too we should also be concerned, although not openly said. But you see as their big player in Africa and the sub-region, we have enormous of responsibilities that we are mixing up.
The issue of protection of the marine environment is quite critical and it’s clear also to every maritime nation, the IMO. Is Nigeria really doing anything about our marine environment?
Yes, we are doing a lot in our marine environment in terms of waste management. We are monitoring ships. Recently we visited African Circle, a facility that is concerned with offshore reception facilities; we are talking with them, monitoring their activities to control pollutions arising from shipping, both domestic and international.
We were involved in ballast waste management conference in Nigeria, because the world sees us as responsible people. We are on top of that matter. In terms of ballast water waste management, we are front runners in the comity of nations.
In terms of waste emanating from ships, we are also making effort to ensure that the conventions that are domesticated are fully implemented to the letter. So, marine pollution is a matter that is critical to us. You are aware of climate change issue that has galvanised one’s option in terms of managing ecosystems and environment. We take this thing serious. We’ve been part of the conventions, conferences internationally, and we know and have the understanding that doing the right thing is going to preserve the ecosystem, the marine environment for today’s children and tomorrow’s children. So it’s critical and we are doing something about it and, of course, it’s part of our mandate.
If you go to the Act that established NIMASA, marine environment management in terms of prevention and control of pollution arising from ship is one of the most important elements in our mandate, and we are not shying away from that.
What is the role of your agency in the area of port state control as a flag state administration? How do you rate yourself as a flag state administration?
We are doing very well; we are living up to our port state responsibilities, our flag state responsibilities. Thousands of vessels that have entered the Nigerian territorial waters have been inspected. In some cases, we have detained ships that flout our regulations. We have made corrections where necessary. We have kept the security in the ports intact. We have made sure that the IMO conventions on flag state and port state are maintained. We are on top of the matter and alive to our responsibilities.
What is the state of the country’s ship registry? Is it easy to do business, to register under Nigerian flag?
Yes, it is easy. What has happened before was perception problem. There are no such difficulties registering the Nigerian flag. The Nigerian flag is an attractive one.
The complexities people feel about the Nigerian flag are mere imaginations; practically, there is nothing like that. We are in shipping and we have the shipping environment and the potentials of becoming a full-time shipping nation. Right now, we are on the right track and we are moving in the right direction to become one of the most competitive nations in the world. So, if you are talking about the Nigerian flag, the Nigeria flag is an attractive flag. There is so much talk about the dearth of seafarers globally, hence the IMO campaign encouraging people to go to sea.
Is Nigeria fully into this and if you are, what programme do you have in place encouraging Nigerians into seafaring?
The attention that must be given to seafarers must continue to increase globally if the shipping industry is to survive. Seafarers are the core in the shipping industry. The ship alone makes no meaning if the seafarer is not there.
Therefore, efforts are being made in Nigeria by NIMASA in the development of the seafarers. Hence, in years past, management sat and emerged with the idea of the National Seafarers Development Programme, in other words called the NSDP programme, where states in the Federation and NIMASA are partnering to train seafarers in different parts of the world.
As we speak today, we have so many seafarers in various universities in the world, from the Arab Academy in Cairo to the AMET University India, to some others, the United Kingdom and, of course, we want to go into Canada and the rest of the world.
Besides the counterpart funding we have with the states, NIMASA also is coming up with the second window of the NSDP programme, whereby, without recourse to the states, we want to send our seafarers to different parts of the world. By January, God willing, the first batch of the second window of the NSDP programme will start.
Also, because this is important to us, in next year’s budget, there is a sizeable amount of money that is reserved for training seafarers all over the world. And, of course, it is because of the importance we attach to seafarers that the Maritime Academy, Oron was established. And you know it’s because of its importance we are remitting five percent of our statutory three per cent revenue to maintain the infrastructure in Maritime Academy, Oron so that we can produce seafarers, because seafarers are critical to the development of this industry. We are talking to our development partners, shipping agencies, shipping companies elsewhere in the world to take graduates from MAN, Oron for practical sea time training, and some have made concessions to admit our people so that they can get that practical experience.
So training of seafarers is a must and must continually be reinforced, because without seafarers the maritime industry will collapse.
Nigeria has been in the IMO Council 14 consecutive terms. How will you describe our contributions over the years. Have we contributed meaningfully?
We have demonstrated our commitment to IMO from points of financial assistance, from points of galvanising opinions on shipping issues, from points of hosting conferences, regional conferences. For instance, the ballast water waste management issue, we a front runner in that issue in terms of manuals, pollutions, related areas and so many other things. Of course, we have our APR in the IMO. We also have a Nigerian representing Nigeria and Africa sub-region, in the person of William Azu. So we are in IMO. We continue to be in IMO.
So, why do you want to return to the IMO Council seat after 14 consecutive terms to battle category C again? What are we going back there to do?
Well, it is to strengthen the IMO, make sure that the IMO lives up to its responsibility. It is to contribute meaningfully to the ideas, talks, in things that will be done to change international shipping for the better. It is for us to reinforce our determination to making sure that piracy is off the territorial waters of Nigeria and other countries in the world. It is to make sure that the world that is united through shipping is reinforced through understanding, through also shipping. We have a lot brain power, the resource people. So if we keep this our resource people away from IMO, the world is going to lose a lot. Nigerians have the human capacity in areas of maritime pollution, safety and security. So it is a plus for IMO for us to be there, so that IMO can benefit from us. And we will certainly make our contributions to IMO.
Of course, Nigeria merits more than the Category C, but let us consolidate on Category C, reinforce our contributions to IMO and make progress to contest for category A or B in the years ahead of us.
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