This week’s edition of Shippers’ Guide features Mr. Ashinwo Adebayo St. Peters, the Managing Director, Prometheus Maritime Limited, who is also the Assistant General Secretary of Nigerian Ship owners Association (NISA), has been in the maritime industry for more than a decade. In this exclusive interview with Ifeoma Oguamanam of MMS Plus weekly, he bares all on the operations of stevedoring companies in the maritime industry.
What services are provided by stevedoring companies?
The services they provide is the supply of dockworkers, they provide the manpower that works on the vessel when it is at berth, mooring of ship, discharging of cargo, etc. Especially the bulk cargo and Roll On Roll Off (RORO) vessels.
What are the standard procedures required to start a stevedoring company?
To start a stevedoring business and be successful at it, the owner must have good knowledge and understanding of what is obtainable in the business, like the policies, laws and regulation that regulate the activities of whosoever that is operating in that part of the industry.
By extension the Nigerian law expects that as an entrepreneur you must register your company with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) that makes a company a legal entity, then the regulatory authorities like the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) should register the company because NIMASA is the agency that represents direct government presence in the maritime industry while the NPA regulates the activities of the maritime labor.
The maritime labor is the dockworkers that carry out the activities at the ports. The maritime law in the NIMASA Act 2003 saddles the agency with the responsibility of the maritime labor welfare. This includes, the seafarers, the stevedoring companies that operates and engages the service of dockworkers who are essentially a part of maritime labor.
How does NPA and NIMASA regulate stevedoring companies?
A good knowledge of the laws and policies of maritime business is a must because maritime business is international and while we have the international regulations that guide the maritime business in the country like the International Maritime Organization (IMO) forms part of the regulations, this means your country must domesticate those regulations, so you need to have a good knowledge of the legal angle of the business to know what to do to comply with the law in the day to day management of the business.
NPA issues licenses to the companies and ensures that they operate in conformity with the laws guiding maritime labor especially, in the area of their welfare. While in NIMASA, there is a maritime labor department saddled with the sole responsibility of ensuring that the welfare of maritime labor is taken care of.
What association or body do they have to belong to?
The dock workers belong to the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), while the stevedoring companies have their own body, known as the National Association of Stevedoring Companies (NASC).
Must they belong to these associations before they can operate?
No, there is no law in Nigeria that compels a company to belong to a trade association, or a trade union organization and it also does not compel any worker to belong. Before now, a junior staff of any organization is compelled to join a union, once he is gainfully employed as a junior staff in any industrial sector, it is automatic that the union dues will be deducted from his salaries.
The last Trade Union Act amended by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo changed all that and stopped the Unions from making it compulsory for workers and organizations to be members. Although being a member of a union has its advantages, the workers may be vulnerable to being exploited by their employees if they are not protected because the unions serves to protect the interests of its members, so if a dock worker does not belong to any trade association if he has any grievance there will be no platform for him to express his disaffection and expect it to be properly addressed.
How do the dockworkers get paid for their services?
They do not get paid directly by the ship owners; they are paid through the stevedoring companies that engaged them, because it is the company that has a record of how many people that have been engaged to do the job by their understanding with NPA or the cargo owner based on the quantity of cargo or the services rendered. Once the job is done payment is also made through the company.
So why are dock workers accusing NPA for not paying their wages for about a year now?
The categories of dockworkers making these allegations are not directly engaged by stevedoring companies. NPA does not own the cargo but NPA most likely will charge the cargo owner, therefore, the funds is released to NPA, the cargo owner has an understanding with NPA on how much money is needed to pay the dock workers and there is no way the vessel will discharge and go without paying the ports dues.
So that is part of the port dues charged by NPA. So the NPA should pay either the dockworkers involved directly or the stevedoring companies that engaged the dockworkers on behalf of NPA.
What agencies provide for the welfare of the stevedores and why are they sometimes referred to as wharf rats?
The welfare of dockworkers, like I mentioned earlier is the sole responsibility of NIMASA, by the virtue of the fact that the dockworkers are part of maritime labor by law and by practice and the law has saddled NIMASA with the responsibility of maritime labor.
As regards referring to them as wharf rats, there is no official document where it is stated and accepted confidently that they are wharf rats, but the issue remains that dockworkers are not full time workers they are like laborers, it is not automatic that they will always have a vessel to work on every day of the week, like a fulltime worker. If a stevedoring company engages a dockworker this month and by the next month there is no vessel allocated to the company, he will not engage any dockworker that month and in between jobs they have nothing else to do and sometimes work done has not been paid for, and they still need to report at the pool or dock where they will be seen and their availability established.
Man has to survive and they also have responsibilities, so, some idle people, I do not want to specifically state that it is the dockworkers that are responsible but the pilfering at the ports are carried out by these wharf rats and sometimes dockworkers are involved.
What criteria does stevedoring companies look out before hiring dock workers?
The dock workers do not require qualifications, they are not trained or certified people, there is no academic training for dock workers in Nigeria , they are trained on the job and major aspects of the job done by dock workers are not jobs that requires any specific skill.
They are selected at random, may be by introduction from someone who is already in the business or through the association. When they start the job they learn on the job and over time if they are experienced enough, they could be engaged to operate machinery, like the crane, but ordinarily it is not the dockworkers that operates the crane.
The vessel has its operator who operates these machines, for safety reasons it has to be a well-trained dock worker that can do the job, but in most cases the vessel has its own personnel on the vessel crew to operate the crane installed on the vessel that discharges cargo.
What gender issues are experienced in stevedoring?
Well, I am yet to see a female dockworker, it has been a trade that is largely dominated by the male gender, not just in Nigeria but in other clime, you hardly see women working at the terminals.
How capital intensive is it to run a stevedoring company?
It is a very capital intensive business in terms of financing, also the integrity of the company is a major factor to consider. The company is bringing dockworkers who it will be responsible for, so the conduct of these workers is very important, the cargo owner and NPA needs to be confident that the integrity of the stevedoring company is intact and can deliver the best hands to do the job.
The normal requirement when registering a company that will carry out that kind of activities in the marine environment is required to have a minimum of N 25million share capital and when registering with NIMASA the company will also be required to present a bond of about N10,million. This means that your banker has to certify that if any eventuality that requires the payment of within N10, million occurs they will take responsibility because the company can afford it.
So the company cannot withdraw from that bond. also, a stevedoring company needs an office, office equipment and a vehicle that will convey the workers in and out of the ports. It will require a medical facility for first and, an ambulance in case of causalities. All that requires a lot of funds. Not forgetting the registration of the company with the CAC, NIMASA NPA and Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) among others. NPA and NIMASA will also come and inspect the office space to ensure that all the requirements are in place.
In your opinion how much do you think will be required to start a stevedoring company?
It depends on the funds you have available, the area you want to locate your office, and on how large or small you want to start. Because you will be looking at the rent, employment of workers and the categories of office workers you want to employ. As well as the type of vehicle you want to buy.
In Apapa, if you must meet up with what will make NIMASA and NPA approve your application by requirement you cannot be talking about anything less than N30,million.
How does NPA have access to stevedoring companies?
As a company you will have a physical presence which is the office with contact address that is easily accessible, it has to be registered and in operation with some level of canvassing to get jobs. For instance, the company has to know the offices to go to in NPA and NIMASA to seek contracts for jobs.