Why FG must pay urgent attention to the maritime sector

Experts and notable investors, including indigenous ship owners as well as relevant agencies have repeatedly argued that Nigeria is losing billions of naira annually for not putting its maritime sector at the reach of her citizens. While various groups as to what the country loses annually to foreign-flagged vessels bandy different figures, this poses great concern because Nigerians are not involved in shipping of its crude oil and commercial shipping activities even within her territorial waters.

Paucity of properly Nigerian flagged vessels has remained a major reason. The Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN) and the Nigerian Indigenous Ship owners Association (NISA) put the figure of loss to capital flight in the maritime sector at N2 trillion annually, mainly through crude carriage and other auxiliary services in the maritime sector in the country.

President of SOAN, Engineer Greg Ogbeifun said recently that ownership of tankers for crude oil freight and vessels for commercial shipping by the Nigerian government in partnership with the private sector should be current government’s priority for the utilisation of the potential of the country’s maritime and cutting down of the massive capital flight in the industry.

Other indigenous shipping industry investors agree that there is an urgent need for Nigeria to float vessel fleets for the carriage of its oil products and possibly involvement in commercial shipping at a lower scale.

According to them, this is just one of the critical steps the President Muhammadu Buhari government should take urgently; among other policy decisions it must make to harness the huge and untapped potential of the country’s vast maritime resource.

Repeated hues and cries by stakeholders may have paid off at last as recent revelations show that there are now 1,227 vessels owned by Nigerians. This means that capital flight which has been a major problem in this sector may now be curtailed. However the increased Nigeria flagged vessels did not come without a baggage.

Maintaining the vessels present a major problem. Ogbeifun said at a maritime investors and ship owner’s forum in Lagos recently that it is now very challenging for ship owners to take their vessels outside the country for repair, urging the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to support development of existing ship repair yards and even build new ones.

He also stressed the need for NIMASA vessel surveyors to always refer to the head office when they are presented with excuses for lack of ship registration papers, instead of being in a hurry to seize vessels.

“It is bad that surveyors are always in a hurry to seize vessels. A situation where a surveyor is checking a vessel and the vessel has no papers, but had already started the process of obtaining or renewing the papers and all the survey says is ‘oh, I am going to detain the vessel’ is bad.

“Surveyors should have a feedback mechanism with head office while in enforcement exercise,” Ogbeifun said.At the forum, owners of stevedoring companies and dockworkers complained that jetties do not allow appointed stevedoring firms to work in their ports.

They pointed out that this creates an avenue to bring in illicit cargo.

During discussions on capacity of surveyors from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the ship owners shared different opinions. While some said the surveyors were of international standards in operations, others said there exists severe knowledge and operational gap between the agency’s surveyors and those around the world. They therefore recommended further and continuous training for the surveyors.