How Abuja MoU Sustained Shipping Amid COVID-19 – Umoren

By Kenneth Jukpor

How Abuja MoU Sustained Shipping Amid COVID-19 - Umoren

Capt. Sunday Umoren is the acting Secretary-General of the Abuja Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Port State Control for West and Central Africa. During the 11th Port State Control Committee (PSCC) meeting of the Abuja MoU in Lagos, last week, Umoren had this interview with MMS Plus newspaper. He speaks on several issues affecting the Abuja MoU, highlighting the activities of member states, shortcomings and areas for improvement. Enjoy it.


The chairman of the Abuja MoU, Hon. Kwaku Ofori Asiamah has stressed the need for member states to domesticate and ratify several crucial conventions. What’s the implication of this on the activities of the Abuja MoU?

As a nation, you can’t enforce a regulation that hasn’t been domesticated and ratified. The fact that such regulation hasn’t been domesticated and ratified in a country means that the regulation isn’t binding on that nation. It’s not a law in that particular nation and it can’t enforce it. So, you haven’t domesticated and ratified Safety of Lives at Seas (SOLAS) in a country, one can’t go to inspect a vessel on SOLAS requirement.

We have a Port State Control regime that doesn’t address fully the aspects of the conventions. Some very necessary conventions like SOLAS hasn’t been ratified and domesticated by some member countries of the Abuja MoU.

Nevertheless, it is advisable that all member states ratify and domesticate all these conventions so that when the PSC officials go onboard for inspection, they work based on all the requirements which are the conventions. Currently, we have fifteen conventions that have been approved by the Abuja MoU.


What’s the compliance level of member states with regards domestication and ratification of the conventions approved by the Abuja MoU?

Part of our presentations at this meeting will show the statistics on each of the convention to display the number of countries that have ratified and domesticated each convention. However, I can say that we have achieved almost at 80 percent in terms of domesticating and ratifying these conventions.


One of the challenges you highlighted in your opening address is the lack of training institutions for Port State Control officers. What’s Abuja MoU plan to address this?

What we plan to do is to work with the maritime training institutions like the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron, in Nigeria to develop a dedicated training programme  for PSC officers. This specialized training could be intensive for two weeks or more, so that when the officers conclude the training they would be certified as Port State Control officers. That’s our plan.

The Abuja MoU is extending this training intiative to all the maritime training institutions in member states that are offering foreign going licenses. The idea is to ensure more institutions in the region can solve this need of training that must be delivered at the global best standards.


How would you rate the financial commitment of member states on their obligations the Abuja MoU?

To be honest, the financial commitment of most nations have been very poor. However, we don’t want to do name and shame. We expect a significant improvement in this regard to enable the Abuja MoU meet its obligations.

Meanwhile, let me state that Nigeria has always been consistent with its financial obligations and I want to thank the Minister of Transportation, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi and the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh for their fiscal commitment. Nigeria has never owed or delayed in its financial obligations.

The issue of finance is also an urgent item to be discussed at this meeting. Nevertheless, we assure the member states that we will continue to work with what we have to ensure the goals and objectives of the Abuja MoU are realized.


Is there no penalty for member states who refuse to meet their fiscal obligations?

There is absolutely no penalty.


The Gulf of Guinea (GoG) region and piracy is something that should be of interest to most member states of the Abuja MoU. Would the issue also be discussed here?

We haven’t really taken off security from the safety of vessels. If security is compromised, the safety of vessels in that area is also compromised. The Abuja MoU isn’t directly involved in security, but we interface with the necessary authorities. If a foreign vessel gets attacked, the flag administration always comes to us to find out how we can assist. Subsequently, we try to link up with the respective member state. Security and safety always go together.


The Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh has openly begun to canvass for support to enable Nigeria get into the Category C of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Governing Council. What is your take on this development?

I have always been in support of Nigeria getting into the IMO Governing Council. It would be a good thing for the country considering its position in the West and Central African region.


Some experts have argued that Nigeria doesn’t have the capacity and still lags behind in some aspects of maritime administration. Is the timing right for Nigeria?

I’ll leave that for the Director General of NIMASA to address.


As a major player in the Abuja MoU, could Nigeria leverage on this position to get the support of the member states ahead of the IMO Governing Council polls?

Nigeria currently has a positive outlook in the region and at the the Abuja MoU. Presently, the nation has a mentorship scheme with nations like Equitorial Guinea looking up to Nigeria for mentoring in Port State Control. Nigeria is quite experienced in Port State Control activities as well as some other areas. The nation just has to up its game in the sector. It shouldn’t be a leader today and relegate to a follower a year later.


How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect the activities of the Abuja MoU, especially on ship inspections for PSC officials?

The unfortunate onslaught of COVID-19 affected the number of inspections. However, the impact of COVID-19 is global and it also affected other MoUs as well. The COVID-19 pandemic brought about some innovative measures, but the pandemic didn’t undermine the objectives of the Port State Control inspections. On our part, we also made sure that our reactions and activities didn’t overburden the ships that call at our ports or affect international shipping trade.

It is important to note that international shipping was already suffering from energy and security challenges which led to an increase in unit freight cost and general shipping cost.

Some of the measures taken by the Abuja MoU include the official notification of the extension of the expiration dates of vessels statutory and training certificates, increase tour of duty for crew, and encouragement for remote inspections.

We also worked with the member states in the declaration of seafarers as essential workers and in lending our voice in the management of crew change crisis.

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