By Stephen Ubanna
This is not best of times for shipping Companies engaged in Cabotage trade. The Companies may have been using their vessels in coastal and inland waters trade without showing any sign of registering it or renewing License to make it a valid business from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency under the close watch of Bashir Jamoh.
Investigations by the Value News shows that most of the vessels found in the country’s coastal and Inland waters Ways owned by the Shipping Companies had expired. The situation is so bad as some of the vessels have not been registered by NIMASA, to make their operation in Nigerian waters valid, thus denying the government the much needed revenue.
The change in the leadership of the Maritime Regulatory agency last March by President Muhammadu Buhari, which saw Bashir taking over from Dakuku Petrside, the former Director General, may have exposed the shipping Companies and the Cabotage vessel owners, which may have informed why the new NIMASA Director General had revisit the issue to ensure that the ship owners do the right thing.
The NIMASA Director General who is not happy at the lackadaisical attitude of the shipping Companies to take serious the renewal their vessel license, in order to operate in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea was said to have necessitated the riot which he had to the ship owners to force them to renew their vessel license to avoid playing into the waiting hands of the security Agencies personnel patrolling Nigerian waters.
A no nonsense Jamoh, had given the Companies , between October and and Decmber 31, 2020, an interval of three months, to make haste to register all their vessels used in coastal and inland waters trade. He has enjoined the Companies to take advantage of the three-month Ultimatum to obtain the Certificate for the Cabotage vessel registration and License to show that they had fulfilled all the necessary conditions to trade in the country’s coastal inland waters. The NIMASA Director General may have sent a signal to the ship owners that the three- month Ultimatum given to them to complete the registration exercise and renew their vessel licenses which had expired would not be extended.
He was said to have made it clear to those that cares to listen that ‘’at the expiration of the three-month ultimatum, he will not hesitate to notify the relevant government security agencies and the International oil Companies, IOCs, to stop patronising the services of the shipping Companies which vessels had no valid Cabotage certificates
. THe may have had the Nigerian Navy, under the close watch of ibok Ekwe Ibas, a Vice Admiral, and the Marine police, which is a Unit, under the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, under the control and supervision of Mohammed Adamu to enforce the new order. He may have hinged his hope on the Navy and the other security agencies to help in the Enforcement of the Enforcement of the Cabotage Act because the inter-agency security Collaboration.
The NIMASA boss after the release of the agency marine notice, recently, was said to have informed the ship owners that the three- month Ultimatum was part of the agency efforts ‘’to ensure the strict enforcement of the coastal and inland shipping,Cabotag, Act 2003 and guidelines on the Implementation of the coastal and inland shipping ,Cabotage, Act 2003.
The NIMASA , helmsman , who could not hide his feelings was said to have reminded the Cabotage vessel owners about what the Cabotage Act says. According to him, the law had provided that ’’ every vessel intended for use in domestic trade in Nigerian waters must be duly registered by the Registrar of ships’’ in the Agency’’.
He noted that the law also provides that every vessel that is intended for use under the Cabotage Act must be duly registered in the appropriate register and that the operational Certificates must be renewed annually’’. ‘’We are out to ensure strict implementation of the NIMASA ‘s mandate under the law’’, he had said.
He may have gladdened the heart of Nigerians when he disclosed that the agency intention of implementing the law is basically ‘’to build and enhance the capacity of indigenous ship owners to take over the nation’s shipping industry from the Foreign shipping Companies which had dominated the shipping Industry over the years in line with the relevant international regulations.
Many believe that the NIMASA Director General may have hastened efforts to implement the Cabotage Act because of the presidential approval for the disbursement of the $200 million Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund, CVFF, to the indigenous ship owners after 15 years of delay. A Committee which was set up by Rotimi Amaechi, the minister of Transportation, which Jamoh, in his capacity as the Director General of NIMASA, had taken over the place ofDakuku Peterside, the former Director General to draft the modalities for the disbursement of the Fund according to insider sources, was said to have almost completed the assignment.
Recall that last February , the stakeholders in the nation’s shipping Industry had converged in Lagos to determine the modalities for the disbursement of the $200 million CVFF. Until his removal from office by the retired Army General, Perside, the former NIMASA Director General was said to have worked effortlessly to see to it that a draft of the modalities for the disbursement of the Fund was submitted the minister for necessary Consideration but that was how far he could go
. Jamoh , who, many believe is not resting in his oars, was said to have taken up the matter from where the Committee which had Peterside, the former Director General as Chairman, had stopped. It is not surprising why he wants to ensure that only the vessels with valid Certificates and License should be used for the Cabotage trade.
The CVFF was established under the Cabotage and Inland shiiping Act, 2003, by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, to provide finance to operators to maintain their vessels and procure new one ones for the Cabotate trade.
In a related development, the Nigeria Government and Industry Joint Working Group, NIWG, comprising the ministry of Transportation, NIMASA, Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, Nigerian Navy, Marine Police, Interpol International, Oil Companies Marine Forum, IOCIMF, Interntional Chambers of Shipping, ICS, Baltic and International Maritime Council, BIMCO and International Association of Dry cargo Owners, INTERCARGO, were said to have met in Lagos, the nation’s Commercial nerve center on Thursday, October 8, 2020 to address the issues of the nation’s maritime security.
Philip Kaynet, a Deputy Director, and Head of NIMASA, Corporate Communications had said that International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, INTERTANKO, and the Nigerian Ship-owners Association, were also part of the Thursday meeting.
The objective of the NIWG, according to Kaynet, the NIMASA spokesperson, is basically ‘’ to accelerate efforts to tackle the nations maritime domain security threats by facilitating interaction between stakeholders with the Jamoh led maritime Agency’’. Note that the agency had shouldered the responsibility alone, of funding the security of the nation’s maritime domain over the last 20 years.
Part of the agreement that was said to have been reached at the Thursday meeting in Lagos by the Industry stakeholders, was the pursuance of the execution of projects through mutual Collaboration. This is in addition to enhancing the transparency between the government and the industry stakeholders in addressing the shared goal of achieving permanent prevention of Piracy and other criminal activities in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea.
Maritime analysts believe that the Collaboration between the Industry stakeholders and NIMASA will go a long way in ensuring the safety of seafarers and ocean- going vessels in the Gulf of Guinea region.
The analysts stated that the Collaboration of the Industry stakeholders will help Nigeria and other coastal states in the Eastern Gulf of Guinea to realise the full potential of their Blue Economies. The Value News gathered that since the establishment of the NIWG, last May , it had deepened he Collaboration between the agencies and the Navy ‘’ to build International Response Capabilities, develop more robust reporting frameworks and share the best practices in the Industry’’ to enhance the security of the nation’s maritime domain. This had made it difficult for the pirates to attack occea –going vessels at Gulf of Guinea as was the case in the past.
The good news is that at the Regulatory level, NIMASA, is working directly with the International Maritime Organisation , IMO, in developing a National Maritime Security Strategy for the country. Recall that the agency had domesticated one of the Industry’s Best Management Practices, West Africa, BMP WA, guidance .
The endorsement of the BMP WA, according to the agency sources is a follow up to the signing into Law last June by President Buhari of the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Ofences Act, 2019, SPOMO Act. Indeed, the first set of Pirates arrested, by the Navy and handed over to NIMASA, were said to have been convicted under under the anti-piracy law on August 11, 2020. The three convicted pirates were also fined $52,000 each for hijacking MV Elobey, a tanker, on March 21, 2020, barely two weeks, that Jamoh, assumed duties as the Director General of NIMASA.
Security experts believe that the NIWG Industry partners which had agreed to work closely with NIMASA, to finalise a new Nigerian National Maritime Reporting Framework, would go a long way to support ocean-going vessels in distress, NIMASA Command, Control, Computer Communication and Information, C4I, which had been identified as a national focal point for Coordinating the multi-agency response.
The security experts also believe that the development is a significant step forward for improving the country’s capabilities and potentially enhancing the security of vessels operating in Nigerian waters. ‘’There is considerable momentum behind the NIWG’s efforts to reduce maritime incidents in the Gulf of Guinea region’’, a NIMASA Surveillance officer had said.
In spite of the COVID 19, disruptions of the $195 Deep Blue sea project or the Integrated National Security and Water Ways Protection Infrastructure, contracted to HLSI Security Systems and Technologies, an Israeli firm, which is designed to secure the country’s Anchorage Areas, which includes procurement of Equipment and training of security personnel to tackle Piracy and other Criminal activities in the Nigerian’s maritime domain, The NIASA boss had said 80% of the security Assets had been delivered.
The deliverd Assets include Special Mission Vessels, Fast Intervention Boats , Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Armoured Vehicles.Jamoh, who is a graduate of the Korea Maritime Ocean University, had said that the training of the personnel for the Deep Blue sea project, however, had Commenced and would be concluded this October, ahead of the deployment of the security Assets by December, 2020. This is bad news for the Pirates operating in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea.
But there are indications that the Somali Pirates were now active also in Nigeria waters and the Gulf of Guinea. They were said to have navigated through the country’s maritime boundaries, land borders and the waters of the neighbouring West African countries to Commission boats to carry out their activities.
Jamoh, the NIMASA, Director General, however, has assured ship owners , both Indigenous and Foreign, that there is no cause for alarm as ‘’the agency had developed an action plan to monitor the progress of the National Maritime Security Strategy’’. Our goal is to achieve a sustainable end to Criminal attacks on ocean-going vessels in the nation’s waters ‘, he insists.