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Is It Time For National Carrier?

The Right Time For Nigerian National Carriers

Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, Rev. Jonathan Nicol and Temisan Omatseye

Whenever the issue of establishing Nigerian national shipping line is raised there is always a consensus by stakeholders in almost all spheres of the maritime industry on the enormous benefits it would bring the maritime sector.

From industry veterans to investors, freight forwarders to shippers, relevant agencies as well as indigenous ship owners have a common opinion about how Nigeria badly needs national maritime fleet.

The benefits of a national carrier are enormous. It can ensure adequate manpower development for the future of Nigerian maritime sector as the industry is centered on shipping. Many have questioned the nation’s aspiration to be the hub port in the West and Central Africa region when it doesn’t have a national carrier.

However, the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi has shown signs that he was also focused on bringing back Nigerian national carriers in a bid to grow the maritime industry. Last week, he revealed that he had set up a committee to work out the modalities for acquiring national carrier in a Public- Private Partnership arrangement. However, members of the committee were not mentioned.

“We have set up a committee to enable us develop national carriers which will be operated by private individuals. The committee asked us to give them four weeks to submit their report and I hope their reports will identify the private investors for us to engage them. I hope that by the end of the year we should be able to have a national carrier” Amaechi said.

MMS Plus visited several industry veterans to get their views on the acquisition of national carrier.

The President of African Ship Owners Association, Barr. Temi Omatseye disclosed that the African Union is ready to back national ship-owners. According to him, this means that whatever Nigeria is doing because it is under A.U’s umbrella, Nigeria’s bill of negotiation with the financiers and ship builders will be stronger.

Omatseye also lamented the increase in ship to ship transfer of cargo as he queried the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for diverting Nigerian bound cargo to neighbouring countries for ship to ship transfer and asserted the influx of national carriers could curb the menace and reduce freight cost as well.

For the President of Shippers Association Lagos State (SALS), Rev. Jonathan Nicol, the acquisition of national carrier is a boon and also a bane.

He posited that while it is a pride for the country to have national carrier, it may add to the problems facing the indigenous ship owners because they will equally have to work very hard to get cargo since without the cargo there is no need for a vessel.

”If you look at the aviation sector, we don’t have much problems because passengers are there but when you look at the sea you realize we only need vessels to convey cargo. For wet cargo, nobody wants to buy our oil anymore so not having our own cargo will be a problem. However, for dry cargo, over 60% of our cargo has gone to neighbouring ports so what are going to do with these vessels? The whole system even outside our shores in places like Greece, there is a problem of surplus vessels.” Nicol explained.

The Founder of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) Dr. Boniface Aniebonam welcomed the idea for preparing for national carrier after he described Nigeria’s non- carrier status as the greatest misfortune that the nation had faced.

Since cargo comes into Nigeria on Cost, Insurance and Freight (CIF), while those leaving Nigeria is on Freight On Board (FOB) value, one can’t begin to imagine the amount of money this country is losing. So, Aniebonam concurred that we need to attain a national carrier status.

According the Aniebonam, Nigeria had started with South Korea and North Korea as maritime nations on the same level but today these nations are ship building nations.

”The demise of our national shipping line is not one we should continue to brood upon. Let’s move on by getting new ones and there is no better time than now” he said

Mr. Mina Oforiokuma, the President of Nigerian Content Consultative Forum, felt the federal government should have done something to change the status quo a long time ago even as he compared the NNPC to its counterparts across the globe.

“NNPC should also brace up to its responsibility and take a cue from its counterparts in Brazil (Petrobras) and Malaysia (Petronas). These national oil corporations were on the same level with NNPC few decades ago. However, Petrobras owns over 80 vessels and Petronas has acquired over 100 vessels meanwhile, Nigeria still hopes for a national carrier.” He blurted out.

The President of African Federation of Freight Forwarders, Chief Lexzy Nwangwu also added his views on the issue as he suggested that the same approach used for aviation could be utilized for the shipping carrier.

“NIMASA doesn’t have to spend their money to get vessels. What they have to do is guarantee the ship builder and the financing banks that peradventure the Nigerian who wants the vessel fails to pay, they will seize it. If NIMASA can give this guarantee, vessels will begin to come into Nigeria and you only imagine the number of employment one vessel could create.” He said

Since 1995, when Nigeria’s national carrier; the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) was shut down; the nation has continued to suffer great losses in the shipping sector. However, there are indications that several foreign shipping lines have begun to jettison Nigeria and there is no better time to get national vessels than now.

By Kenneth Jukpor

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