We have sufficient capacity to serve Nigerian ship owners – Boer

The need for ship repairs and ship building facilities throughout naval history has been sources for creation and sustenance of naval capabilities, both commercial and military. The Federal Government of Nigeria, in recognition of this fact as it strives to acquire and exercise sea power, invested in acquiring the Elder Dempster Shipyard and transferred it to the Nigerian Navy to be developed into the Naval Dockyard Limited of today. With the enactment of the Local Content Act and rapid advancement of the Nigerian maritime industry, the Naval Dockyard has become a beehive of activities in the sector as it serves as the only premier logistics facility of the Nigerian Navy available also to commercial clients. In strategic recognition of its construction of the first Nigerian-made warship – NNS Andoni, the Naval Dockyard was honored with the prestigious Africa Maritime & Energy (AME) award of Vessel Construction and Repair Organisation of the Year in Africa. The yard, a complete engineering facility, is run by a team led by the Admiral Superintendent. In this interview with SHIPS & PORTS’ Uju Ozoeze, the Admiral Superintendent of Naval Dockyard Limited (NDL), Rear Admiral James Boer, speaks on NDL’s achievements and the challenges it faces. 

What is it like piloting the affairs of the Naval Dockyard? 
It is challenging and it’s very interesting. As you know, it is a naval dockyard which comprises also of civilians from the Ministry of Defence and other civilians employed by the dockyard itself so administratively it’s a very big task to manage both service personnel and civilians but it’s a challenge which we’ve been handling very well. And we are purely technical, of course a naval dockyard is almost hundred percent technical. So it is challenging in short.

This very dockyard produced the first Nigeria ever-made warship, are there plans of producing another one? 
Yes. Right now we have on ground a 38 meter seaworthy defence boat under construction which is slightly bigger than the one we built last year. And it is an improvement, in fact a tremendous improvement than what we did before. We also want to reduce the time frame and get it done much faster than we did for the one produced before. The one we produced before has been in the fleet and as we speak it’s been slightly just over a year, since she has been in the service of the Nigerian Navy. And if you ask the operators they will confirm to you that they have been very satisfied with the way she has performed. That I think is a big achievement as far as the Naval Dockyard is concerned. Now we feel we have done it and it has worked, we want to go a step further make something bigger and better.

Aside ship construction and repair, what other services does the dockyard render? 
Yes, they are various other engineering activities that go on here, both mechanical and electrical. In the electrical workshop, for instance, we do a lot of rewinding work like rewinding motors, and we also have a very big carpentry workshop where we can produce anything you can think of as far as carpentry is concerned. We also have a mechanical workshop where we receive jobs from outside, machining jobs in particular. Recently, we did a job for Dangote Group of Companies. We machined a shaft of one of their motors that drives their cement plant in Ogun State. It’s a major plant that was shut down because that particular motor broke down. They couldn’t repair it anywhere else so they had to bring it to the dockyard to the dockyard for us to work on and we did it within a record of four days. They have since taken it back to install it in their factory and they are back in production now. So that is outside, the naval aspect or the dockyard jobs that we do. We also provide services to industries outside the maritime industry.

What level of patronage do you get from the maritime industry? 
The patronage is fair. It could be better if we give the dockyard much publicity which is what we are working on now but we do have a lot of patronage. About a month ago, we had a twelve metric tonne tanker that was docked in the main graving dock – our biggest graving dock. That was a major achievement for the dockyard because, considering the size and the limitation of our dock, one would think that it would be a bit difficult to handle a job that size but with the professionalism of my people and the experience that we have, we managed to dock that tanker within a record time as well and the clients were very happy. And we also provide jetty services to ships that come in – berthing services that’s what I mean, where ships come and tie alongside and we carry out minor repairs or even logistics. So, those we support the maritime industry. So, we get a little bit of patronage but we still need more.

Do you receive patronage from the indigenous ship owners? 
Yes we do. Nigerians are trying to acquire their own vessels, and which is good, because we provide the local content. They don’t have to take their ships out of Nigeria to go and dock. So, if a Nigerian buys a ship and he wants to maintain it or wants to take it to a dock, we are available to help them unlike what use to obtain previously when they have to go abroad like Europe, Asia even some of our neighboring countries like faraway Angola or Cameroun but we now have facilities that Nigerians can enjoy that they can use which is right next door.

How many vessels can the Main Graving Dock take at a time? 
It depends on the size of a vessel. It can take anything up to 180 meter long and 20 meter wide and a depth of up to 6 meters, so anybody that is within that range we can accommodate and if they are smaller we can take as many as possible. If we have service boats for instance, of about 50 meter length we can take three of such kind that is taking up 150 meters, and we leave an allowance of 50 meters to allow for maybe walking around the boats, removing shafts and things like that. It all depends on the vessel itself. We also have the twin docks and they are operational. They are two, hence the word twin, but they are smaller though. They have the capacity to handle up to 250 tonnes and they are 50 meters long and about 8 meters wide and a depth of less than 6 meters. They are much smaller but they take most of our patrol crafts like the seaward defence boat. In fact the Andoni which we built is due to come back for a normal check up that new ships go through. We’ve prepared the twin dock to receive her so as soon as she comes in she’s going to go into one of the twin docks. So we have everything ready for Andoni, we don’t have to take her anywhere. We do everything here in Nigeria.

I’ve had the opportunity of seeing a bomb-proof dry dock in Cape Town South Africa; can the same be said for the docks here in this dockyard? 
Well, our docks are really fortified but bomb-proof? I don’t know about that (laughs). They are quite fortified.

Given the security precariousness of the country, won’t it be wise to go a step further in bomb-proofing these docks? 
Yeah. We should bombproof the whole nation actually (laughs). Yes, but we being in the Navy we are part of the security network in the country. So we have put measures in place to ensure that the dockyard is well secured. If you looked well during your walk round you must have seen the various positions where we have stationed armed naval ratings, we have placed them in strategic points where they will ensure the security of the dockyard. And also at the gate we, in as much as we are commercialized, we also have our personnel there well positioned to sort of take on any eventualities that would tend to compromise the security of the dockyard.

Talking about security, what contributions has the Naval Dockyard made towards fighting the menace of piracy on the nation’s territorial waters? 
Our contributions may not be obvious to the uninitiated in the sense that when they see a ship at sea you may not think of how it got there in the first place but if for any reason it is subjected to maybe some damages the next place is the dockyard. And we have maintained so many ships for the Navy and also the civilians that have actually gone out and participated in ensuring that out waters are secure. So, in that regard, the dockyard has contributed immensely to the security of our waters but it is indirectly because if the ships are not operational they cannot even go to the sea in the first place. If they are incapacitated they will be in harbor but we ensure that we make them operational by taking them into the dock, by providing maintenance alongside, by providing logistics that they require and all that. So the dockyard has really contributed to the security of our waters.

What challenges does the dockyard face in the running of its operations? 
There are so many challenges. We have equipment problems in certain areas that need to be upgraded or fully refurbished and that has to do with funding. We need to generate that much revenue to be able to update this equipment or to refurbish them to the point that we need but you see it’s a catch 22 situation where the equipment is not working and for you to generate enough revenue and the revenue you are generating is not enough to refurbish or replace those equipments. So for now we need al lot of injection of funds into the system to sort of bring up the dockyard to a better standard than it is now. In addition to that certain skills must also be upgraded so that the dockyard can be more efficiently run than it is now. And all that has to do with funding and the right managerial skills and the right business model too. But we have achieved something by incorporating the dockyard which was what we did about few months ago. This had given us flexibility to go out there and get the funds; to get out there to get the skills. It’s just like any company really and it is now left to the dockyard management to do what she likes! Either to sit down there and kill the place or to come up, radically change and then make the place work much better than it was. So the ball is our court.

What would you say is the level of performance of the maritime industry of Nigeria today? 
Well, the maritime industry has a lot more to do than they have now. I can see that Nigerians are beginning to participate more rather than leaving foreigners to do so. In the past, one will say that it was virtually dominated by foreigners but the participation of Nigerians has increased more so when the legislative frameworks are been put in place to encourage Nigerians to participate in lifting their own cargoes like oil and other products. We have the Cabotage law that encourages us to own our ships and also participate in our own trade within and out of the country. Cabotage and local content has come in handy to a lot of Nigerians and they are good incentives which Nigerians should capitalize on and make use of the opportunities. There is so much there for Nigerians to do that the level at the moment cannot be said to be sufficient. Some don’t know that these incentives exist so there is need to enlighten Nigerians; there is need to encourage them to participate; there is need to educate on what the sea is all about and of what we stand to benefit as a nation if we now exploit the resources that we have there at sea. We need a lot of education in that direction, once that enlightenment is done you will see a number of Nigerians participating will increase.

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