By Kenneth Jukpor
Engr. Emmanuel Ilori is the 2nd Vice President of the Association of Marine Engineers and Surveyors (AMES). He is also the Chairman of a critical committee saddled with the responsibility of developing the Nigerian ship registry. After a recent courtesy visit of AMES to the Managing Director of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Ilori spoke with MMS Plus on several pertinent maritime issues ranging from the issues affecting the nation’s ship registry to the security of the waterways, among other issues. Excerpts:
As Chairman of the committee to revamp the Nigerian ship registry, what were your findings and recommendations?
The report hasn’t been submitted yet. It would be submitted very soon. However, what we have done is to complete the terms of reference with regards to the critical issues in ship registry. We would submit this to the NIMASA management and it would be made public afterwards.
In our report, we looked at the entire ship registry as it affects the maritime industry and Nigeria as a nation. There are three critical areas we had to look at; the business friendliness of the Nigerian ship registry, the technical integrity of the ship registry and the global acceptability of the ship registry.
On the aspect of the business friendliness of the industry, we are looking at the confidence of the financial sector to put their ships within the Nigerian ship registry. Remember that the NLNG do not have sufficient confidence to out their vessels under the Nigerian ship register. This is a very huge challenge and other investors also have issues with putting their vessels under the Nigerian ship registry. These are issues that we looked at. How easy is it for ship owners to register vessels under the Nigerian ship registry? We looked at these problems holistically and discussed with some International Oil Companies (IOCs) as well as ship owners.
We discussed with the technical practitioners and other professionals who help to register the vessels. We discovered some of the challenges they face with respect to ship registry. We also looked at the ship registry itself with special emphasis on the organization and the staff.
On the technical integrity of the ship registry, this is very critical because the vessels which register under Nigerian registry need to be seen elsewhere as sound vessels that are safe and worth the name ‘Nigerian ship registry’. We looked at the challenges in human capacity and other technical challenges especially in the area of installations.
We have also visited those who could give us the necessary technical support to ensure that our ship registry is globally accepted, and it has the technical integrity that allow NLNG and all those who are interested in registering ships have confidence in the Nigerian ship registry.
Looking at the aspect of global acceptability, we have to nite that the ships would have to compete with others across the globe.
As part of efforts to improve the nation’s ship registry, the committee looked at some leading shipping nations who are willing to support us such as; Norway, UK ship registry (MCA) and they are willing to support the reforms that we are undertaking. We have also looked at three biggest classification societies.
Ajax controls about 90% of the entire global freight. We looked at the top three most powerful members of Ajax and we spoke with Lloyds register as well as the the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS). They are all willing to support the Nigerian ship registry. So, what we are looking at is a holistic approach to revamp the Nigerian ship registry for it to become a formidable force in the globe and Nigerian ship owners and Nigerians generally can be proud of Nigerian ship registry. We also want a situation where our financial institutions would say, if the ship is registered in Nigeria we don’t have any problem accepting them.
NIMASA has a dockyard but in the practical sense how has this facility aided ship owners? Several ship owners have complained that access to spare parts and technical experts have forced them to go abroad. As a veteran what advice do you have for NIMASA on this?
What we need to understand is that the shipyard or dockyard NIMASA acquired was not initiated by the present administration. So, in terms of the true business case for that venture, we do not fully know. There is also the debate as to whether NIMASA should even be operating a floating dockyard or not. Some operators have stressed the need for such service to be outsourced and I subscribe to that view. However, whoever the shipyard is outsourced to should have the requisite capacity to operate it.
The issue of spare parts is that of incentives. If one has to bring in such spare parts to Nigeria, why should the person be paying additional tax on these vessels? These are the things that make it difficult for the Nigerian ship owners to repair their vessels in the country. In some other countries ship owners are not made to pay duty on spare parts meant for their ships. These are some of the incentives that should be afforded to ship owners to enable them manage and maintain the vessels. NIMASA is looking into some of these issues as part of efforts to support Nigerian ship owners.
While the Managing Director of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) Senator Mamora Olorunnimbe was speaking earlier, he decried the high volume of ships that aren’t seaworthy yet ply Nigerian waterways. What strategies could be used to correct this problem?
There are very old ships on Nigerian waters but there are also very many reasons for having such vessels on Nigerian waters. Some of the reasons have to do with technical regulation, compliance and the ability of Nigerian ship owners to access funding. Other reasons include the domination of shipping by foreigners and lack of jobs for indigenous ship owners is also part of the problem.
Until we address some of these fundamental problems that affect shipping in the country, it will continue to be a mirage to see the situation change.
In recent times AMES has pointed out the dearth of veteran Marine Engineers and Surveyors. What effort is the association making to correct this unfortunate trend?
The training and development of maritime professionals is something that AMES has been making efforts to address for a very long time. As AMES said during the courtesy visit to NIWA Managing Director, the lack of professionals at the policy formulation and implementation level has been the bane of the challenges. We have cadets been trained without any provision for them to have seatime. It is sad because we have thousands of trained cadets but no opportunities to avail them of practical experience. We are just setting ourselves up for failure.
The volume of cadets been trained is not right. The most important thing is to give them quality training and development. The strategy should be to trim down the number of cadets so that we can be able to provide seatime experience to those who have been trained. We should be able to adequately provide for their career development.
When you look at the age of the existing senior professional Marine Engineers and Surveyors, you would notice that there is a gap between this group and the younger ones. This brings us to the issue of national policy. The nation didn’t see through the importance of this cadre of professionals to the growth and development of the maritime sector and the nation’s economy as a whole.
How can Nigeria be a great maritime nation with quality maritime professionals to operate and manage vessels and other aspects of shipping? It means we have set up for failure.
At AMES, we would continue to work with the maritime agencies to ensure that we have policies in place that would see us through the times. We would be offering some mentoring programmes so that some of these younger ones can benefit from the robust experience of the senior professionals. We hope that with these strategies we would be able to bridge the gap and create a system where there is succession plan for experts in the sector.
We have noticed high rate of unemployment among Nigerian cadets. How do we address this?
The fact that there are no ships for them to go into means there is nothing anyone can do about the situation. Until we address the problem of inadequate indigenous ship owners, the problem would persist because we have too many cadets chasing too few opportunities. There are no vessels to absorb the cadets and the few vessels have no jobs. Are we going to throw these cadets into ships that do not have jobs? How would they be able to be provided for? Until we get the Nigerian maritime sector moving again, professionally and competently, this problem would remain with us.
How do you think the issue of incessant attacks on ships by pirates and armed robbers on Nigerian waters could be addressed?
Piracy is an international problem that still remains despite the efforts of several nations. In Nigeria, what we have is mostly incidents of armed robbery at sea. The Nigerian government has the statutory responsibility for safety and security of the nation’s waters in this regard. Just like it is an issue for the security agencies to address when someone attacks your vehicle on the road or robs from people on the highway, the Nigerian government should be able to address such problems. However, in terms of piracy, there is no piracy on Nigerian waters.
At a recent strategic meeting organized by the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping (NCS) the representative of the Naval Flag Commanding Officer revealed that the Navy had identified 33 security hotspots on Nigerian waters that require strong military presence but lamented that as a result of poor funding the Navy has only managed to cover nine areas. With this in mind, how would you rate the security of the nation’s territorial waters?
From what the Navy has said, operators can be optimistic that the security of the Nigerian waterways is a work in progress. We have made progress to have been able to identify these locations that need high level security. The next thing is to seek the resources to enable us manage these hotspots and ensure the nation secures its resources in the maritime domain. There is a saying that if a problem can’t be measured, then it can’t be managed. Now that we have been able to identify those areas; hopefully we would be able to find the resources that would help us eliminate the challenges.
From the courtesy visit today, what is the essence of this relationship between AMES and NIWA?
The essence is to revamp the nation’s maritime industry so that inland waterways takes it rightful place in the development of the nation’s economy, especially on the aspect of transportation which is crucial to economic development. Nigeria has millions of tons of mineral resources that should be earning the country billions of dollars but these resources are not been exported. We have thousands of vehicles and trailers carrying goods without insurance. Look at the massive losses to frequent accidents on the roads and the effects of such heavy-duty vehicles on the roads. They destroy the roads and create gruesome traffic congestion. Look at the huge sums of money required to fix and maintain the roads; but these are things that we shouldn’t be using taxpayers money for. We can move a large portion of these goods via the waterways and this would make the roads safer and more durable. It would also make it easier to do business in Nigeria and enable the maritime sector earn the necessary revenue that would boost the nation’s economy and diversify it from the overdependence on crude oil.