Expectations abound from the government and major players in the nation’s maritime sector on the need to ensure efficient infrastructure development such as good access road, deployment of scanners at seaports among others as the year begins. YUSUF BABALOLA examins the underling issues.
Stakeholders’ expectations were not met in the nation’s maritime sector in 2017, however, if government had provided a neccessary tool such as cargo scanners, disburse Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF) and secure the nation’s waters, it would have been a different narrative in the maritime industry.
Need for Scanners at Seaports, Entry Borders
2018 should be the year the federal government should provide scanners at the various nation’s seaports and entry points. This will drive the federal government’s ease of doing business and reduce the time of clearance of cargoes at the ports. Also, provision of scanners will forestall importation and passsge contrab ands such as rifles at the seaports as severally experienced in 2017.
It could be recalled that a total of 2,671 pump action guns were intercepted at the ports in Lagos in 2017, all from Turkey. A 40-ft container load of 661 pump action guns from Turkey was seized in Lagos on January 22, 2017. On May 24, another container load of 440 pump action guns from Turkey was intercepted at the Tin-Can Ports in Lagos.
Another arms shipment from Turkey, a container with 1,100 pump action guns, was seized on September 11. One-week after the discovery of 1,100 pump action rifles in Lagos, another 475 pump- action was uncovered at the Tin-Can port. However, the discoveries of arms pushed the Comptroller General of Customs, Colonel Hamid Alli (rtd), to decide that some of the bad scanners at the ports would be repaired.
Speaking on the collapse of scanners at the seaports, the president, National Council of Managing Directors of Licenced Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, said the collapse of the cargo scanners made physical inspection/customs examination laborious, thereby constituting delays and attendant high cost of cargoes and endless destruction of goods.
Besides, the absence of the scanners exposed the ports to the influx of arms, ammunition, and unwholesome goods as well as the introduction of the pallet policy. As the government has promised to repair the scanners, stakeholders hope they would be fixed before arms slip through the ports into the hands of criminally minded individuals.
Disbursement of CVFF
The best thing that would happen to indigenous shipowners in 2018 is for the federal government to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF). The Ship owners over the years groan over huge debt and dying business, occasioned by poor ship finance. The Ship owners have, however, continuously sought government’s intervention in the disbursement of CVFF in other to have their business boom once again to no avail.
Aminu Umar, president, Nigerian Ship owners Association (NISA) said “What we hope for in 2018 is the disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF). We need to see that the disbursement is done to respective ship owners who are qualified. I understand the Transport minister said he was not going to disburse the fund because of what happened then in the aviation industry but I do not think we should be comparing aviation and the maritime industry.
“I think one of our responsibilities as ship owners is for us to come together and meet with the minister to address his fears so that the funds can be disbursed to those who are qualified. We also hope to see a lot of patronage from companies to Nigeria ship owners. We hope to see the implementation of the cabotage regulation, local content regulation and implementation of any other regulations to support Nigeria ship owners.
“Also in 2018, we hope to see that the security and safety of our waters are permanently addressed. We hope that the foreign exchange rate will come down so that ship owners can be able to source foreign exchange to buy spare parts and other items that we may need for our vessels. We hope our banks too would be able to provide funds to finance more of shipping asset,” Umar said.
Fighting Piracy on Nigeria Water
Gulf of Guinea and Nigerian Water have been described as one of the most dangerous maritime environment in the world due to the level of maritime crimes – Pirate attack, sea robbery, kidnapping – happening unabated on Nigerian waters.
For instance, it is on record that actual and attempted piracy attacks in Nigerian territorial waters in 2016 were 36 while 40 persons were kidnapped on Nigeria waters in 2017. Dryad Maritime reported in December 2017 that no fewer than 56 Nigerian mariners were kidnapped and killed by sea pirates on the nation’s territorial waters.
The firm said there was 15 attacks against commercial ships reported within 60 nautical miles radius of Bonny Island in recent weeks. The report also stated that the attacks led to the death of at least 56 seafarers in 2017 alone in serial attacks by sea pirates across the volatile Gulf of Guinea, where Nigeria is prominent maritime actor. Having identified this, stakeholders called on the government to partner private operators to help secure the troubled waters.
Speaking on this, the founder/group managing director of ARCO Group Plc, Alfred Aikogun said “We should do more to secure our waters. There should be collaboration between government and the ship owners or the operators of vessels in Nigeria. We all need to come together and know that if we make the water safer than what it is right now, it will create business for marine activities in the country and government will earn more from taxes and revenue.
If government is not engaging the private sector enough for them to get the right advice on how we can together work to secure the waters, we will be working in different directi. We do not believe the government alone can do it nor do the private owners have the capacity to do it on their own, so there has to be collaboration to work together. If we have that principle in mind, we will be able to make our water ways secure like we find in other parts of the world. We can improve from where we are at the moment, there is room for improve.”
Fixing Maritime Transport Infrastructure
In 2017 users and operators at the Nigerian ports faced some major challenges and bottlenecks to wit deplorable state of roads leading to the Lagos Ports – Apapa and Tincan Island Ports, infrastructure and technology breakdown; while they acknowledge the ongoing collaboration between some private firms and government to fix the port roads, there is need for urgent palliative measures to enhance movement of traffic in this axis.
Poor access to the ports due to bad state of the roads and absence of functional rail had multifarious effects on the private sector, economy and the citizens. Some of these effects are as follows: Risk to the lives of citizens, arising from containers falling-off the trucks as a result of bad roads. Several lives have been lost in recent past as a result of this; and congestion at the ports resulting from the delay in the evacuation of cargo from the Ports.
Others are: high demurrage paid by importers to terminal operators and shipping companies as a result of delay in the clearance and evacuation of cargo in the ports; high cost of transportation for evacuating cargo because of the prolonged engagement of the trucks by importers arising from the delays; traffic congestion along the roads leading to the ports, which often spills over into the Lagos metropolis, causing severe traffic jam and loss of man hours in Lagos.
Also are delays in getting raw materials and other inputs from the ports to the factory premises in Lagos and other parts of the country.
Industry operators are of the view that for the maritime sector to make appreciable impact in 2018, the federal government should engage various stakeholders on myriad of challenges facing the maritimsector. The challenges can be solved if all hands are put on deck with utmost sense of sincerity from everyone including operators, stakeholders, government and its agents.
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