By Kenneth Jukpor
Although Coronavirus (C-19) is associated with disruption of patterns and systems, one value it birthed as a driver of social change is creativity. This lends credence to the axiom that necessity is the mother of inventions. The shipping sector under C-19 has been underscored by topsy-turvy globally, but creative leaderships underlined the difference. How did Nigeria manage the mix?
While the world observed a lockdown during the climax of the COVID-19 pandemic terror, shipping continued across most nations to guarantee that essential cargoes including medical supplies were delivered on time, and in a safe manner.
Other transport modes like aviation, roads and railways were shut, however, shipping which accounts for over 90 percent of global trade had to carry on to prevent a total collapse of the global economy. In Nigeria, despite the enormous challenges at such critical times, the apex maritime regulatory body, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) was central to shipping operations amid weighty decisions at the time.
Although the pandemic erupted at the onset of the new executive management at the agency, there were some spot-on interventions which underlined the enterprise and dexterity of the amiable Director General, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, new Executive Directors; Hon. Victor Ochei, Executive Director, Maritime Labour and Cabotage Services, Mr. Chudi Offodile, Executive Director, Finance and Administration and Mr. Shehu Ahmed, Executive Director Operations and the entire NIMASA team.
This report chronicles the activities of the agency as part of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19pandemic in the shipping sector, whilst ensuring seamless shipping operations dealing with merchant ships trading internationally.
Amid the travel restrictions which also affected seafarers, the agency initially assured that it would be coming up with frequent publications that would elaborate on the guidance which also include schedules for ongoing offshore operations requiring new crew or crew changes from affected countries to ensure that pre-departure tests for COVID 19 are conducted on such persons, and self-isolation procedures for the prescribed period are instituted for such new crew/personnel before exposure to other personnel.
The agency extended the validity of statutory and trading certificates for all Nigerian registered vessels, including Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) certificates for seafarers to ensure uninterrupted shipping, despite the pandemic.
Subsequently, NIMASA developed and published several guidelines as Marine Notices directing that all duties of dockworkers in the nation’s seaports, terminal and jetties are essential to the economy of the country and as such dockworkers should be granted passage to and from their residence to seaports/ terminal and jetties to perform their duties.
The agency also stressed the mandatory use of nose masks within all terminals and jetties, mandatory temperature to be conducted on all members of staff before accessing the terminals and individuals whose temperature read above 38°C shouldn’t be allowed entry.
While clarity on the status of seafarers and dockworkers was speedily provided, NIMASA also directed that all suspected cases of COVID-19 infections be isolated and promptly reported to the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC).
The agency directed employers to take the onus of providing adequate protective clothing and protective equipment at no cost to the dockworkers; also urging dock labour employers to devise methods of ensuring that all dockworkers who were absent from their duties as a result of COVlD-19 be quarantined and compensated for the suspension of earnings they suffered as a consequence.
NIMASA frequently updated its guidelines for all ships operating on Nigerian waters, banning all vessels without thermal screening facilities from operating in the country. This development ensured shipping companies and other maritime operators followed procedures stipulated by United Nations agencies including the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), as well as the NCDC.
Referring to the advent of pandemic as trying times, the NIMASA boss said the outbreak has necessitated stringent measures to curb the spread while not totally grounding the Nigerian economy.
“We must pull through together, that is why we have directed that all maritime stakeholders develop risk assessments and safety intervention guidelines for their personnel and operations on the areas of vulnerabilities of their maritime operations that can be affected by the COVID 19 pandemic including but not limited to offshore operations such as crew/personnel changes, visits from onshore and other locations for provision of supplies, maintenance and repairs etc.” Jamoh said.
In line with measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, all milling around port premises halls, playing of games and unnecessary loitering were prohibited; even as NIMASA directed all dock labour employers to ensure social distancing of two meters maintained between people in the workplace and other public spaces within and around port terminals.
These guidelines given to stevedoring companies, dock labour employers, shipping companies, dockworkers and stakeholders at all terminals and jetties within the Nigerian maritime domain; were in sync with global best practices and the NCDC guidelines.
Employers of dock labour or stevedoring companies were mandated to provide adequate insurance cover for health, personal injury, loss of earnings, and compensation, relating to any incident affecting dockworkers or stevedores in the course of the work of the dock labour employer or the stevedoring company.
Beyond the operational directives for the shipping industry, NIMASA also made germane and altruistic donations of crucial medical equipment such as ventilators, ambulances, vans and the essential interceptor boats and personnel for the fight against the pandemic via waterways.
NIMASA handed over N20million monetary donation, three ventilators, an ambulance and fast intervention vessels to the Lagos State government to support the fight against coronavirus; with the Director General, NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh describing the gesture as the agency playing the role of a responsible tenant with its headquarters situated in Lagos State.
Lagos State government was better equipped in the war against COVID-19 as NIMASA supported with ventilators, testing materials, ambulances, fire brigade machines to be used to spray chemicals to reduce the virus, a 36-seater bus, a 16-seater bus, oxygen concentrator, personal protective equipment, hand sanitizers. However, the agency also made similar donations at the Federal capital Territory, Delta, Rivers, Cross Rivers and Kaduna States along with cash donations to some of the states with reported cases of the pandemic.
In another show of sportsmanship and collaboration, NIMASA joined the Maritime Task Team (MTT) setup to expeditiously address the challenges at the time with daily meetings with other port sector agencies and stakeholders.
This development, however, wasn’t unexpected as the NIMASA Director General’s highly celebrated maritime book, “Harnessing Nigeria’s Maritime Assets, Past, Present & Future”, advocated the development of an Integrated Marine Plan (IMP) for Nigeria where regulators and operators set a roadmap, clear vision, high-level goals and carry out integrated actions.
Unsurprisingly, MTT has metamorphosed into a crucial monthly meeting of Chief Executives of maritime sector agencies and the NIMASA Director General has been central to the group’s success with modest successes in eliminating overlapping functions.
At the second monthly meeting by Chief Executives of maritime agencies hosted by NIMASA, the place of intermodal transport was itemized as a priority for cargo evacuation at the nation’s ports.
The decision of heads of maritime agencies in Nigeria to work on modalities for a quick commencement of multimodal transport connectivity and 24 hours operation at the ports, has elicited excitement and commendation from industry stakeholders.
Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, Jamoh and his exquisite executive team has either visited or hosted Chief Executives or helmsmen at Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Navy, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Police, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (SOAN), National Association of Stevedoring Companies (NASC), various media groups, among others.
While most of the issues deliberated by the agency focused on the emerging challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting afforded the agency ample time to discuss other issues such as plans to harmonize training procedures with Nigerian Navy to effectively safeguard the country’s maritime space, boost efforts with Customs to eliminate loopholes in the Temporary Importation Permit (TIP) system often exploited by importers to avoid government levies.
Some milestones have been recorded in the aspect of maritime security over a score of pirates have been apprehended and the first batch have been prosecuted under the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act. The agency has already received commendation from IMO on this development.
NIMASA is also partnering with NPA and concluding plans to have its floating dock operational with over 300 Nigerians expected to be engaged in a facility that was jettisoned for over two years by the previous administration.
In just six months, Jamoh and the dynamic trio of NIMASA Executive Directors have reinstated the agency’s commitment towards corporate social responsibility (CSR), fetching the organization an appealing disposition for the agency.
The managerial journey at NIMASA has only begun with this leadership team as less than 10 percent of their administration has been recorded, nevertheless, the agency’s crucial role in shipping and its willingness to make sacrifices has been observed in the maiden months which could be described as the COVID-19 era.