Return of oil bunkering
The Federal Government recently granted approval for the resuscitation of oil bunkering operations in the nation’s territorial waters.
This was indeed a piece of good news that gladdened the hearts of maritime industry operators who have long agitated for the lifting of embargo on the legitimate trade.
Unfortunately in Nigeria, bunkering has been speciously tied to oil theft. This erroneous linkage, long perpetuated by uninformed senior government officials and the media, has robbed the country of legitimate foreign exchange earnings.
Just last year, the chief executive of a government agency in the maritime industry claimed that Nigeria was losing a whopping $1 billion annually to oil bunkering whereas the alleged loss was in actual fact due to oil theft. The convoluted idea of bunkering by those in authority only served to fuel illegal trading on Nigerian waters as vessels that required bunkers were supplied through the black market while those that could not patronise illegal supply channels due to issues of corporate governance guarding their operations resorted to neighboring countries to fill up their tanks.
Until the late 1980s during the dictatorial regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, Nigerian and foreign flagged vessels could legitimately replenish their bunkers in the country. At the time, Nigeria was the preferred destination for bunkering in the West African sub-region.
Regulation of the operation of bunkering firms was however lax leading to flagrant disregard for standards and, not unexpectedly, abuse. Crude oil theft was also beginning to rear its head in the country at the time and it was believed to be perpetrated by firms engaged in bunkering.
General Babangida’s answer to the problem was to place a total ban on the supply of bunkers to vessels on the waters; an action tantamount to throwing away the baby with the bath water.
Attempts by operators to convince successive governments to reverse the ill-informed decision of the military junta met brick wall.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration therefore deserves commendation for seeing the wisdom in lifting the ban.
For the avoidance of doubt, bunkering is the sea equivalent of a fuel service station.
According to experts, bunkering is like running a gas station on the sea. It provides fuel such as marine diesel, low pour fuel oil, lubricants and others to sea crafts. Sometimes, bunkering companies also provide fresh water to vessels on the sea.
Director, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Mr. George Osahon, who penultimate Tuesday informed stakeholders of President Goodluck Jonathan’s approval for the return of bunkering operators to the nation’s territorial waters, said it would generate revenue for the government and create employment opportunities that would buoy the economy.
According to him, the resumption of bunkering services in the country will save oil, gas and marine operators the stress of going to Senegal, Cape Verde and Cote D’Ivoire to fuel vessels operating in Nigerian territorial waters.
Now that government has given the nod for resumption of this vital component of shipping activities, operators must ensure that it is not abused as it happened in the past. Licensed operators should come together and form a formidable association to protect their operations from quacks and hoodlums. They must also ensure that their workers are well groomed in the trade while their operations must be in line with international best practices.
Government agencies connected to bunkering operations must also be alive to their responsibilities. Licenses should be granted only to companies that fulfill set guidelines and have track records of operating within the ambits of the law.
The Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) must also ensure that only licensed operators are granted access to vessels.
All vessels that will be used for bunkering operation must be certified and duly registered for effective monitoring and control.
If it is well regulated, the return of bunkering operation has the potential of generating substantial employment and foreign earnings for the country.