Navy Taking Over NIMASA Functions,Detain Ships , Arrrest and Prosecute Seafarers?

By Stephen Ubanna

Ibok-Ete Ibas, a Vice Admiral and Chief of Naval Staff has  a big task at hand: to bring to book his men who have arrogated to themselves  the powers of  the National Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, of regulating the nation’s maritime sector by  arresting merchant vessels within Nigeria shores on  alleged illegal lifting of Crude Oil, improper documentation, ship hijack and  othersundry offences.

Take for instance, MT Success owned by  Hepa Global limited which was  arrested on February 29,2014 and MT  Deby, owned by Banquest Chamber  arrested in 2015. Investigation by the Magazine shows that  the Seafarers on board the vessels were also arrested  and detained by the Navy without getting the approval of NIMSA  which has the powers to arrest and detain vessels.

Many had expected Ibok to save Seafarers from his officers but nothing appears to have been done, fueling speculation that the Naval Chief  may have endorsed the action of his officers. The Magazine learnt that between last year and now, no fewer than 250 arrested Seafarers are languishing in various prisons in Nigeria.

That much was confirmed by Otunba Kunle Folarin, an indigenous Shipping magnate.  Folarin’s major worry was that most of the arrested  vessels   were chartered vessels, noting that the ship owners may not know  what the Charterers would deploy the vessel to do in their own country, whether to use it for legitimate  cargo carrying business or illegal business.

He  gave an insight to the key players to ship management in the Oil and Gas sector of the economy  which include   the Ship Owners, Manning Agents, and the Maritime Administration of the country. Take for instance, it is manned by NIMASA.  This is in addition to the Oil exploration  and Development Companies  as well as  the Oil and Gas Services  Operators.

He was forced to speak out at a one day sensitization Seminar  on Local Content  Development  in  shipping ,Oil and Gas  Logistics Operations in Nigeria organised by the Maritime Reporters Association of Nigeria, MARAN, in Lagos.

Given his world view of the activities of Seafarers in Ships,he stressed that they  are employees of the Ship owner or Charters, protected  under the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, and  International Labour Organisation, ILO, Conventions which had been ratified by many countries including Nigeria.

The Conventions, he said ”deal directly  with the issues  that are relative  to Seafarers ‘s welfare right and obligations”. He confirmed that the Maritime  Labour Convention, MLC, 2006,  have also  been ratified by the government as a way to forestall ill- treatment of Seafarers in maritime nations .

Given the strategic role of Seafarers  in Shipping Operations , Folarin said the demand for their services in all sectors  of the world economy: International trade, Oil and Gas carriage for the Merchant Navy and in the Navy for National defence is very high.

He alluded to the nation’s nation’s Shipping policy  of the 1987 under  the National Maritime Administration ct which recognised the position  of the Seafarers and made it mandatory that the position of Chie Mate and Captain should be held exclusively by Nigerians. the Oil and Gas Local Content Development   Act  2010, which was signed into law by former President Olusegun Obasanjo was expected to give support to the NIMASA Act.

If the Shipping Act had been fully implemented  as expected by NIMASA, Nigerians  should  have been the first consideration for training  and employment  in the work programme for which the  plan was submitted by the Ship owner or            Charterer.  The policy may have been frustrated by the foreign domination of the country’s Shipping sector, and thus the  domination other countries Seafarers in the country’s Shipping sector. The fallout was that most of the Seafarers who had entered into troubled waters had  been abandoned  in the country  bb by the Ship Owner or agent.

The imigration officials were said to have had the trouble  of bearing the burden of repatriating the abandoned Seafarers to their countries of origin. Ukachukwu Joe,  a Lagos based business  averred that if the Shipping Companies  operating in Nigeria had  kept to the government policy of engaging   more of Nigeria trained Seafarers the problem of ”abandoned Seafarers would not arise.

The foreign domination of the nation’s Shipping sector  is not unexpected. This is because over 70 percent  of the Crude Oil produced in Nigeria oil production which are transported by Ships, were handled by   the foreign Shipping Companies who which had already  engaged the services of  Asian and other African countries Seafarers  before  sailing to Nigeriaa.

Dakuku Peterside, Director General, NIMASA, explained that  the country” generates an estimated  annual cargo throughput  of 150 million metric tons with freight earnings  in excess of 5 billion  in her international trade transactions”.

Peterside disclosed that the” same  dominance  by foreign Seafarers international trade  has been  extended  to the domestic  Shipping market where  the estimated  $3 billion annual maritime related spending on the Oil and Gas  production activities are virtually earned by foreigners”.

The NIMASA boss said the Agency is doing everything to reverse the trend by reviving the indigenous Shipping sector which appear to be a comatose over the years.  He has given his word that the Agency would soon start the  disbursement of the Ship Building and Ship Acquisition Fund, SBSAF, to

prospective beneficiaries to be able to buy Ship that would engage Nigeria Seafarers.

 

Dakuku Peterside, DG NIMASA

Insider sources  told the Magazine that delay in the disbursement of the multi-million naira fund was because of the involvement of the Banks .  Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, minister of Transport  was said to have kept  a close tab on NIMASA, the disbursing agency to ensure  that only genuine local Ship operators were given the loan instead of making an all comers affair. The involvement of the bank and the ministry in SASBF disbursement process  may have weighed down  on NIMASA officials to trade with caution to avoid playing into the hand of officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for offence  not committed.

But Folarin said the indigenous Ship owners could save themselves the trouble of going cap in hand to NIMASA to solicit  for financial support to buy Ships for carriage of cargoes to make , when there are several other alternative sources of funding to restore the vibrancy of the local Shipping sector  that could compete with the International Shipping Community.

 

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