• Operators blame NIMASA, NNPC, fault cabotage law, others
Scores of Nigerian vessels are currently lying idle and rotting away on the high sea due to a shortage of cargoes or lack of maintenance.
On a tour of the Lagos waters, The Guardian saw many of the ships permanently anchored, and scattered on the high sea around the Apapa pilotage. Experts classified them as abandoned vessels; wrecked ships; sneaking ships, and waiting vessels.
The abandoned vessels threaten the safety of incoming ships. The wrecks are also a huge loss to the maritime industry, which is currently struggling to gain strength on flag carriers.
It was learnt that operators of the affected ships are facing financial challenges as they could not gain access to the over $100million Cabotage Fund, which is being managed by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
Besides, a particular section of the Cabotage Law, which is meant to protect the indigenous ship owners, is allegedly being used to favour foreign vessels as government grants waivers at the expense of local operators.
Section 4 sub-section 15 of the Cabotage law states: “Upon application for a licence by a person resident in Nigeria, acting on behalf of a foreign owned vessel, the minister may issue a restricted licence for the foreign owned vessel to be registered for participation in the coastal trade, where the minister is satisfied that:
“The foreign owned vessel is eligible to be registered in Nigeria; the owning company of the foreign vessel has a representative office in Nigeria; all applicable duties, levies and tariffs imposed by the relevant authorities applicable to foreign vessels with respect to its participation in the coastal trade have been paid.
“The foreign vessel possess all certificates and documents in compliance with international and regional maritime conventions whether or not Nigeria is a party to the conventions and that such certificates and documents are current and valid; and the foreign vessel meets all safety and pollution requirements imposed by Nigerian law and any international conventions in force.”
Some of the ships were, however, linked to the failure of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to prioritise local vessels in its crude oil lifting contracts.
An industry expert and a master mariner, Ayodele Johnson, told The Guardian that most of those vessels lying idle on the high sea belong to Nigerian ship owners.
“Some of them are not up to the required standards; others are just being parked there because they are no more working. What led to this situation is that most of them are not being given opportunity to carry local consignments.
“There is a clause in the cabotage law that allows foreign vessels to come in and pay for waivers and they are allowed to operate. So, what they do is to take a few Nigerians aboard the vessels, take them to Port Harcourt and back to Lagos and pay to NIMASA and they are allowed to do local feeding without using our own vessels,” he said.
According to Johnson, “Some of those vessels are also not in good condition. They just parked them there. NIMASA knows they are supposed to protect Nigerian shippers, but what they are after is money, because they pay in foreign currency and that is what is killing our industry,” he said.
But the President of Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Greg Ogbeifun said none of the abandoned vessels is owned by any member of the group.
Another ship owner, who prefers anonymity, said the abandoned vessels were rickety and could sink at any moment because they have exceeded their lifespan and the owners have decided to abandon them. They have become damaged beyond maintenance and repairs.
Ogbeifun alleged that some of the vessels sneaked into Nigerian waters to perpetrate illegal business activities, and such ships are anchored amidst wrecked ones for cover-up pending when time is ripe for their illegal deals.
“For the abandoned ships, most of the owners may be looking for buyers because Nigeria does not have capacity for scrapping. Scrapping is the official way of disposing ships, by disintegrating the components and reselling them to various prospective users who find them useful for their own operations. That is what some advanced countries such as India are benefiting.
“When you have a ship and is going aground, you will submit the name to ship breakers. They will disintegrate it and resell the components to those who will find them useful. At the end of the day, such owners will still be able to save a substantial amount of money from scrapping,” he said. According to him, Nigeria does not have ship breakers because of the tough procedures.
Some of the ships are said to belong to the Pioneer Chairman of the Indigenous Ship Owners Association of Nigeria, (ISAN), now Nigeria Ship Owners Association (NISA), Chief Isaac Jolapamo who confirmed having about three of the ships. But he said the vessels were neither wrecked nor abandoned, only awaiting servicing and reclassification.
The maritime icon said Nigerians should change their ways of doing things in order to encourage private investors in the country. He linked the vessels’ ordeal to a failed contract by NNPC on crude oil lifting, alleging that the Federal Government discourages private investors though “unfriendly business policies”.
The President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero said: “The problem we are having in the country is that most of the agencies that are supposed to be responsible for engineering those ships are jumping up and down from one seminar to the other. The core function of NIMASA is to make sure that those ships are working. There are provisions in the laws that are very clear. There are three instruments; the Cabotage Act; Local Content Act; and the NIMASA Act. NIMASA is actually supposed to have quick expansion programme.
“In the Cabotage Act, we have indigenous operations and in the Local Content, there is need for NIMASA and Cabotage Act to work together. In all these things, you will still see Nigerian operators suffering because the core function of NIMASA is not being implemented. It’s very clear,” he said.
The Cabotage Fund, derived from two per cent deductions from every contract awarded, was meant to help boost the capacity of indigenous ship owners and provide the needed capital for them to acquire vessels.
The spokesman for NIMASA, Isichei Osamgbi, said the agency was not pleased with the situation, hence it directed the owners of the wrecked ships to remove them or face strict sanctions.
Osamgbi referred to a recent advert and a press statement, which quoted the Director General of the agency, Dakuku Peterside, to have said “it is instructive to ensure that our waters remain safe for navigation in order to advance our maritime interests.”
He warned that all abandoned ships would be declared as wrecks and the agency would ensure that nothing impedes safe navigation in Nigerian waters by removing them.