By Stephen Ubanna
Between 2005 and now, past and present Director Generals of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and safety Agency, NIMASA, Iincluding ministers of Transportation of past Administrations, had been under intense pressure from the indigenous ship owners who were said to have gradually lost out to the International shipping Companies to start the disbursement of the over N124 billion Carbotage Financing Fund, C VFF, to enable themprocure new vessel to replace their obsolete ones.
Investigation by The Value News shows that most of the indigenous ship owners as at 2019, could no longer boost of one functional vessel that could compete with the foreign shipping Companies in carrying government or individualyl generated cargoes in the country.
Given the agitation of the indigenous shipping Companies over the last four years, for the disbursement of the CVFF, Dakuku Peterside, NIMASA, Director General, was forced to make a bold Statement on the Funds on the first quarter of this year . As a prelude on how the CVFF, would be disbursed , he had said that Rotimi Amaechi, a former governor of Rivers state and now minister of Transportation has ordered a review of the guidelines for the exercise. He was optimistic that as soon as the exercise was completed,the agency will commence the disbursement of the Funds.
The NIMASA boss was said to have made it clear to those that cares to listen that the Cabotage Fund will be disbursed to only deserving indigenous ship owners , with specific mandate of fulfilling the reason for establishing the Fund.
It is interesting to note that that the agency had registered about 125 vessels, owned by indigenous shipping Companies under the Cabotage regime , an Indication that Nigerians would be able take over the Coastal trade within the nation’s territorial waters currently being dominated by foreign shipping Companies.
Peterside may have gladdened the heart of the heart of the indigenous shipping Companies that they have no cause to worry about the position of the fund as it has increased to about N124.64 billion domiciled at the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN. The money , according to maritime sources had accrued to NIMASA from the 3 percent sea protection and waste collection levies , paid by the foreign shipping Companies. Some of the shipping Companies were aid to have been made to pay demurrage on account of delays in the documentation process . This may have informed why the CVFF, have increased by lips and bounds over the years.
But after years of waiting in the wings over the disbursement of the CVFF, by NIMASA, Amaechi , the minister of Transportation, may have taken advantage of the stakeholders Appreciation Night organised by Hassan Bello, Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shipers Council, NSC, to speak on the on the next line of action for the Fund. The NSC, Apreciation Night had brought together Captains of the industry including Emmanuel Ihenacho, a former minister of Interior and owner of Integrated Shipping, who maritime analysts had said currently has no ship. Ihenacho may not be the only one who was said to have virtually lost all his ships due to financial constraint . There are several other indigenous ship owners like Iheanacho’ Integrated Shipping. The minister may have gladdened the heart of the indigenous ship owners when he revealed that the Katsina state born Nigerian President has given approval for the disbursement of the money that had accrued under the CVFF to indigenous Shipping Companies to acquire vessels that could launch them back into business.
The minister who was said to have assured the indigenous ship owners that they have no cause to worry about the safety of their vessels in Nigerian waters because of the activities of pirates, as the menace has been atken care off with the urgency it deserves.
He may have impressed the Nigerian ship owners when he said that the era where the country loses about $7 million annually to oil thieves and where sea going vessels are constantly attacked with impunity by pirates is over . His optimism of tackling the pirates headlong in the next four years without any sad story of attacks on vessels was informed by the $95 million maritime security contract that had been signed with HLSI System , an Isreali firm. The Isreali firm has a mandate to put an end to issues relating to piracy and other maritime Crime in Nigerian waters.
Amaechi was said to have received a thunderous ovation from the stakeholders at the NSC aPreciation Night when he declared that ‘’Criminals must be chased out of the country’s territorial waters in order to make the” water ways safe and attractive for foreign investment”.
Perhaps to ensure that the disbursement of the CVFF by NIMASA, alone , did not develop any K-leg in the process, Amaechi , regarded as an action minister in maritime circles , was to have given his words to meet with all the relevant agencies under the ministry as well as the indigenous ship owners in order to work out the modalities and process of disbursement of the Fund.
Recall that the CVFF, was established in 2003, by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, to provide funds to indigenous ship owners to maintain their vessels and also acquire new ones to be able to compete with the foreign ship owners in the maritime sector.
Going by the Act establishing the Fund, the minister of Transportation was empowered to establish the guidelines for the disbursement of the fund to eligible operators . Note that the insistence of the minister to carry the industry stakeholders along with the disbursement of the CVFF, should be a source of worry to NIMASA officials who may have looked forward to use the opportunity of disbursing the Fund to settle scores with operators who had problem with them and to give preference to ineligible operators, or those described a ‘’Portfolio’’ ship owners in maritime circles. P.
Indeed, the various indigenous shipping groups, according to sources, appear to have begun Consultation, in order to present a common position during the ministerial meetings on deciding the modalities and processes for the disbursement of the CVFF, to avoid playing into the hand of NIMASA officials who may be looking forward to see the operators disagree to give the government opportunities to delay the disbursement of the funds.
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