By Stephen Ubanna
For years, people of the Coastal Communities in Lagos, Bayelsa, Cross river, and Rivers state, had looked forward to the Federal government coming to remove the shipwrecks in their waterfront which was giving them trouble.
Take for instance, the waterfront in the Alpha Beach in the south west state of Lagos, where a large barge had washed up over a decade ago in the area forcing the people to cry out to Nigerian Maritime Adminstration and Safetety Agency, NIMASA, for their intervention to remove the wreck. Former President Goodluck Jonathan was said to have visited the Community to see things himself . Eyewitness said he was shocked at the erosion caused by the wreck in the Community that one Oniru, was said to have been Contracted to remove the wreck that requires a huge c Capital outlay to do but succeeded in doing nothing. The Alpha Beach wreck may have informed why Patrick Agpobolokemi, a one-time Director General of NIMASA, directed officials of the agency to carry out an inventory of the number of ship wrecks in the nation’s Coastal line. He had said that most of these ships that are abandoned in Nigerian waters are owned by foreign shipping companies, who have flouted the agency laws.
Investigations by The Value News shows that there are over 3,000 shipwrecks littering the nation’s Coastline. Informed sources told the Magazine that the shipwrecks are too many in the country’s Coastline because the government has no strong legislation or enforcement of existing legislations that would force the ship owners remove the wrecks. This may have informed why many of these foreign shipping Companies both within and outside the country had found Nigeria as a dumping ground for their ships which are no longer in use, making the country ‘’the world ship wreck graveyard’’.
Note that each wreck takes up to six months to be fully dismantled and the conditions are said to be very difficult and dangerous. The situation of of the wrecks in Nigerian waters was so bad that Dakuku Peterside, a Rivers state born former Director General of the agency, was forced to give a matching order to all the owners of the abandoned ships in Nigerian waters to remove them before April 28, 2017 or risk sanctions ranging from forfeiture or removal by the agency at the owners expense.
He was said to have made it clear to the foreign ship owners that all the abandoned vessels would be declared as wrecks , stressing that the agency would do everything within its powers to ensure that the wrecks are removed to facilitate safe Navigation in Nigerian waters. According to him the directive was in line with the mandate of the agency on the protection of the nation’s marine Environment and Safety of Navigation within the Nigerian waters and as the receiver of ship wrecks but that was how far he could go.
It is instructive to note that Nigeria is a signatory to the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, 2007, Nairobi, Kenya, International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks. The purpose of the Convention, a NIMASA, source said is to ensure the prompt and effective removal of shipwrecks located in the parties territorial waters including Nigeria.
In 2020, Bashir Jamoh, president, Chartered Institute of Transport Administration of Nigeria, CIoTAN and NIMASA Director General, had said that the agency is thinking of spending N10 billion to remove all the shipwrecks, described as a national asset’’ across the nation’s territorial waters. The Jamoh led NIMASA, Management Team may no longer be thinking along that line of action for now.
He may have used the opportunity of a meeting with the officials of the Port of Atwerp International, a subsidiary of Port of Atwerp, Belgium and Europe ‘s second largest port, after the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands,to speak out about ‘’the huge opportunities for investment in shipwreck removal and recycling in Nigeria’’.
The meeting was said to have been organised by the Belgium- Nigerian Chambers of Commerce in Lagos, the nation’s Commercial nerve centre. Jamoh may have gladdened the heart of the Port of Atwerp International officials when he revealed that the Katsina state born Nigerian born President ‘’is planning a Coordinated wreck removal policy to drive investment in the area’’.
The maritime Regulatory Agency boss, who never missed any opportunity of exposing the huge investment opportunities in the nation’s maritime sector may have won the heart of the Atwerp Port international officials going by a Statement by Kistof Watershoot, a Director at the Atwerp Port Internatonal. Watershoot, who could not hide his feelings had said to the hearing of the NIMASA officials at the meeting that their mission in Nigeria was ‘’to discuss projects of interest including inland ports and to strengthen the relationship between the Port of Atwerp international and NIMASA, in the areas of training, technical support and Cooperation’’.
Mario Lievens, another top official of the Atwerp Port International , who was said to have also spoken at the meeting had laid emphasis on training. Hear him: we are in Nigeria to promote new partnership opportunities with NIMASA, especially in the area of training.
Maritime stakeholders believe that the drafting of a National Maritime Transport Policy for Nigeria, may be of interest for the officials of the Port of Atwerp International because of the windows of opportunities it has opened for both local and foreign investors. It is not surprisisng why Watershoot had said , we believe in Nigeria’’. He noted that ‘’the ‘’business climate in Nigeria could be difficult but there is hardly any country in the world without its peculiar difficulties’’.
Although the National Maritime Transport Policy, described as part of the efforts of the Buhari Administration to develop the nation’s maritime infrastructure and diversify the oil-dependent economy is still in the works, Ms. Gbemisola Saraki, a one-time Senator of Federal Republic of Nigeria and minister of State, Transportation, overseeing the nation’s maritime sector, is optimistic that the draft Policy when Completed and approved by the governemnent would lead ‘’to improved Foreign Direct Investment, FID, capital inflow into the country and enhance the ability of the nation’s maritime sector to compete at the International level’’.
There is no gain saying the fact that Nigeria and Belgium have a long-standing Diplomatic, economic and business relationship. This may encourage the Belgium business Community to come into the nation’s maritime sector in full swing to invest in ship wreck removal, recycling and other maritime projects, that would create job opportunities in the country.
Philip Kaynet, a Deputy Director, Corporate Communications in NIMASA, who had issued a Statement after the business meeting between the Port of Atwerp International and NIMASA officials had stated that the nation’s maritime sector has been ‘’consciously being opened up for investment by local and foreign investors to build a sustainable blue economy’’.