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Shipping: Minister, stakeholders designing roadmap for national fleet

Barring any unforeseen contingency, all is set for the floatation of a new national shipping fleet to be driven by private sector investors coming both from abroad and Nigeria.

This formed the consensus resolution of stakeholders’ in Nigeria’s maritime industry who gathered Wednesday in Lagos to celebrate the 2016 World maritime Day (WMD). The event was organized by the Office of the Minister of Transportation.

In his address of welcome, the Minister, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi said “the theme of this year’s celebration ‘Shipping, indispensible to the World’ is quite topical considering that about 90 per cent of global trade is being transported via the shipping industry”.

He said there is a direct correlation between a nation’s shipping sector and the level of development in the economy, stressing that “It is not by accident that most developed economies and those that have largely built on maritime industries are main dealers and gainers in international trade”.

Though he avoided the issue of political will to effect the needed changes, the Minister, however listed the main challenges hitting back the sector in Nigeria to include “Non competitiveness, low level of investments, absence of requisite funding, low implementation and enforcement of existing laws, and high charges among others”.

He said part of government’s efforts to boost the sector include the privatization of ports and strengthening of supervising agencies to be more effective and proactive in service deliveries.

Amaechi reiterated the resolve of the government to deepen the ongoing single window project and ensure that the various operational processes of the maritime sector including vessel reception, cargo handling and clearance among others, become automated to reduce revenue leakages.

He revealed that the gap in manpower development will be closed by upgrading training institutions to train and retrain workers in the sector.

He said government is looking at how to effectively utilize the nation’s vast waterways totaling about 853km to boost cargo movement and passengers.

On the issue of floating a national carrier, Amaechi disclosed that “Government is equally committed to assisting genuine investors to access the Cabotage vessel financing Fund (CVFF) in order to boost investments in ship building and repairs”.

“Investments in mining and agriculture, solid minerals and manufacturing will not bring about the required economic self reliance if the maritime industry remains a mere appendage in a foreign dominated shipping industry.

In his lead paper at the WMD, a seasoned mater mariner and former top official of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Captain Adamu Audu Biu identified what actually went wrong that collapsed the Nigeria National Shipping Line (NNSL).

He listed the reasons to include running the company like a government parastatal because it was floated by the government; the existing private shipping lines failed to operate with active participation of foreign partners; there was lack of political will on the side of the government to do the needful at the right time then and the result was the decimation of the fleet from 29 in 1979 to zero in 1999 according to former president Olusegun Obasanjo.

But to float a national fleet that will survive the test of time, Captain Biu said there is need to create the enabling environment which must be driven by the political will of the federal government, security assurance for the investors, provision of needed port facilities, manpower development in the sector so that majority of the works should not be taken away by foreigners if we must get it right again.

Reviewing the Captain Biu’s presentation, head of agencies under the ministry took turn to say their minds beginning with the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Barr. Hassan Bello who called for strong political will to drive the floatation of the adopted national fleet, saying private investors are always ready but issues of government bureaucracy needs to be reconsidered as well. He however, gave a rundown of the activities of his agency and said efforts are no to drive the new fleet which he is currently serving as the head of the steering committee at government level interfacing with the private sector investors and stakeholders in the prospective deal.

On the response of the Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside said his agency is on the process of repositioning a lot of issues that had been wrongly put that had been causing poor development and stunted growth in the shipping industry.

He disagreed with popular position that NIMASA uses the whole time in the world to register a flag, saying the agency is now faster and more effective in doing its duties in the sector.

However, the Managing Director of NPA, Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman decried the approval granted for the development of Lekki Seaport, saying traffic gridlock will be worst than what operators are passing through around the Apapa axis on the delivery of the port come 2019.

She further revealed the readiness of her administration to begin the review os all the port concessions, saying many of the concessionaires had reneged on their part in doing what they should do according to the agreement they signed last ten year for the ports. She added that most of the concessions ought to have been reviewed every two years but laxity caused the agreements to overlap up to 10 years.

The WMD celebration was the gathering of who is who in the industry. Some of the stakeholders present include shippers and service providers including the Executive Director of Integrated Spatial & Environmental Managers Limited, Mr. Marc Eeckhout.