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NIMASA had been toying with enforcement of cabotage regime—-Nwokolo

The Managing Director and chief executive officer of Oarsmann Maritime Services, Chief Ugo Nwokolo has called on the new leadership of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to rise up to its core duties of enforcing cabotage regulation to protect the jobs of local seafarers.

In an interview, Nwokolo who manages a registered manning and crewing agency that supplies seafarers to vessels and shipping lines said former Director General of NIMASA had failed to enforce cabotage, thus giving foreign ships escape routes to shortchange our capable hands.

He said it is rampant seeing vessels coming into Nigeria’s cabotage area without local seafarers.

Explaining more on the development, Nwokolo said “On one occasion, the captain of a foreign ship confirmed to me that he had just one local seafarer onboard and that was an officer, but others are ratings and other cadres of officers working in engine room and deck and they were all foreigners”.

“The captain told me that no enforcement officer had told him anything regarding the country’s cabotage requirements. When I confronted him, he showed willingness to disembark his foreign crew and change them with local personnel. He actually explained that he didn’t know it was an issue working with foreign crew and that he had no problems changing them.

He expressed worry on the lackadaisical attitude of NIMASA enforcement team, saying “The agency is supposed to have inspectors that go to vessels to check what is happening—if the vessels are registered for cabotage business in Nigeria. It is not just enough to stay in the office and approve documents, but rather, they should be able to a step out to say let us see the vessel because some of these ship captains can be funny”.

“I met another ship owner and this one is very interesting. I was in the man’s office and he was telling one of his managers to “do it the usual way we do it.” He is a foreigner that has been in Nigeria for long. He was actually instructing his manager to put one uncommon designation, and they put that bogus technical title that could attract waiver, so that when it is being presented at NIMASA, the agency will say we don’t have such personnel and then they will now have to retain their own foreign personnel.

“They usually put some job roles that sound quite technical so that when they present it to the regulator, most times the agency will just allow the vessel’s officer to remain onboard. All this happen because NIMASA has not gone to say, you in this new position, what is your job? What are you specifically doing?

“Let us have the crew list; let us see the crew and let us see your certificates of competence that you are using to work; let us know if we also have people that have this competence. The agency only relies on the papers they see. Sometimes these papers are doctored and manipulated.

According to him, there are terms that are used by ships that NIMASA officials may not understand.

He however noted that he has been relating some of these developments to the regulator in Port Harcourt.

He said “the director of Caboatge and Maritime Labour has been trying her best and the zonal coordinator here (Port Harcourt) is trying too, but you know, when you keep reporting, it is like there is something you are interested in. What we are saying is that they need to step up their games and do what they are employed to do”.

On the need to deepen cabotage enforcement, Oarsmann Maritime Services boss said NIMASA must step up its duties and train its staff to rightly understand the current development in the world of cabotage administration.

He said “If operators of foreign ships see the hammer coming down on them, they will comply as most of them know and are ready, but they are only waiting to be pushed to comply”.

“For instance, how did I get to know about the example I cited earlier? How I got to know was that as they were coming, the ship captain already contacted us to provide some seafarers. But we will have to first send them the resume of the seafarers and they will approve them to go on board.

“But when they arrived, they saw that there was nothing on ground to compel them to change crew. So they would say why do we need to change? They called us because they had the understanding that when they arrive, there would be cabotage enforcement officers on ground, but when they came, there were none.So, why would they need to begin to observe cabotage regulations when they have no one to bother them or to push them to do so? So, they dropped our seafarers and continued the way they came.

While observing what he described as a huge gap in cabotage enforcement, he however expressed hope that the new DG of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside haqs shown signs of capabilities to do well.

“ I can see that he has so much to offer as far as maritime development is concerned. The way he has been following up these things systematically says so much about his readiness and willingness to do the job,” Nwokolo noted.