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Operator carpets FG over poor Cabotage implementation

For eight years Mr. Greg Ogbeifun, a master mariner battled to have vessel constructed and delivered after winning a five year contract from Total., despite the financial set back he suffered . In this interview with Godwin Oritse of Sweet crude he elucidates on the challenges he had to contend with from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) did not deter him.

Excerpts:
Congratulations on the commissioning of your vessel, we heard the delivery of the vessel was delayed due to lapses from the financing bank, what really happened?

Well I am not sure that it is prudent for to start going back to that because that is all history, the same bank eventually came on board to complete the financing which made it possible for us to take delivery of the vessel and have it commissioned.

At the thick of the crisis, the Nigerian Government through the National Assembly intervened and instructed the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency to assist you to get the vessel out of the shipyard

We were completely disappointed that NIMASA did not heed the counsel of the National Assembly and it turned down an opportunity for NIMASA to showcase their genuine interest in supporting the growth indigenous ship owners in the country.

They have not been able to give any reason why they did come on board to help actualize this project and we feel particularly bad about it because we have a right and entitlement to their support considering that now the vessel is commenced a five contract every day that vessel is working NIMASA is collecting two percent for the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund.

In turning down request to support the continuation of the financing, I do not think NIMASA has a moral right to come and collect any money earned by that vessel.

So I will be very glad if the press can get to NIMASA and get to the bottom of the matter and find out what actually happened unless they are just a fathom agency that is not doing what it is suppose to do

If the National Assembly has not been able to call NIMASA to order for flouting its directives then who am I.
Is it true that all the crew on board your vessel are all Nigerians?

All the crew are hundred percent Nigerian, I consciously resisted every attempts to get me to bring in expert rates to run this specialized vessel.

There was an attempt to that effect?
There was an attempt, unfortunately, an agency that is supposed to encouraging indigenous crew was telling that they will like to bring in foreign crew to sail the ship to Nigeria if they must give us the money and I think this is contrary to what the NIMASA Act is all about.

I think there is lot more than meet the eye here but I am very glad that I put my foot and the financing bank had no particular interest on who brought the vessel so I used all Nigerian crew to bring the vessel and they are the first Nigerian team to do the type of job they doing out there because it is the first of this type of vessel owned by Nigerian, operated by Nigerian doing the type of contract it is doing

How many crew members do you have on the board the vessel?
We have twelve crew members on board the vessel, we one female cadet and we are using the opportunity to see how we can also contribute to wards the capacity building of the maritime sector and we are not just giving the cadets opportunity to do their sea time or industrial training, we intend to follow them all through to ultimate qualification of their career.

You did say something about an agency wanting you to use foreign crew to sail the vessel to Nigeria, can you let us into who that agency is?

They were asking us to use foreign crew and I said no.
Is it a Nigerian agency?

Yes it is a maritime agency
Why are you trying to shield them?
It is NIMASA, and please do not ask me who in NIMASA because I will not tell you.
What is the cost of this vessel?

The vessels cost $11million and the bank gave us $1million dollars operating capital, so what we owe the bank is $12million and by the Grace of God we should be able to pay that within the contract period.

What was the greatest challenge you faced in the course of constructing the vessel?
I am a professional, I was involved with drawing of the specification of the vessel I performed the quay laying ceremony in Cape Town in 2008, I saw through the construction of the vessel from nothing to completion.

This is my professional past -time, there was really no challenges as to the construction of the vessel, I had to obviously engage NIMASA to ensure that they did their own bit when it got to the issue of flagging.
I insisted that the vessel must be flagged Nigerian, the only challenge we had was in the financing which led to about three or four months delay in the delivery of the vessel.

How would you rate the success of the Cabotage law?
Well I think one of the biggest problem is that there is no political will by government to have the Cabotage Act properly implemented, there is no political will in making the appointments in strategic position, you need to use the right technocrat who are there to work and not to maybe pay back for political benefactors that is the fundamental thing otherwise there are things that are not being done right which can be done properly, cheaply and easily.
I think the Cabotage implementation is a total failure irrespective of what any body says.

The nitty-gritty of it is that we do not have a maritime sector; I do not see any sincere effort to lay the right foundation for a future growth.
If after 55 years of Nigeria discovering oil and operating off-shore, this is the first time an indigenous is emerging for this type of contract then is something fundamentally wrong.

I pride myself to say that even in winning the five year contract there was no preference given to me as Nigerian, I competed with international companies and I beat them technically, I was not the lowest bidder, the lowest three bidders could not perform and we were asked to come in we proved to them that we could do the job.

So there is no benefit of being a Nigerian in this game until the government have the political will like other governments to say that this is our industry and we must protect it and produce the influx of international players, but if the government is not doing that then it is unfortunate.

If an expert rate company goes to Abuja to them, it will take one day while I Nigerian will spend one week for the purpose.

These are the fundamental things I am talking about, we need to have a patriotic attitude to say that we must protect our future.

What I have done with Osayame is laying foundation for the future, like the cadets on that vessel have a hope that for the next twenty years they have a job just simply because of that vessel.

As cadets today in twenty years I expect them to more that captains and chief engineers.
In twenty years time I may not be around and even if I am alive I will not have the energy to climbing vessels.
They are doing something, they are sowing seeds for  the future and your people in government realized that they are there to look at the future of the nation and not to look at their immediate interest, if this continue then we will keep going round in circles.

This is where the private sector has a role to play in helping this country move forward.
If I were not in the private sector, I would not have been able to take the risk I took  and go the length I went to make that this project which eight years to mature.

You mean you have been on this project for eight?

Yes what we just celebrated has been on for the past eight years, there were all sought of obstacles, all sought of efforts by foreign players to scuttle it , all sought of challenges but we held on .

Now because that has now gone through another project we have been working on in the last years, they just told that we have it for a bigger ship for another five years contract.

I think we have broken the barrier and we hope that by the time we create more job opportunities, transfer of skill and what have you another brand new vessel flying Nigerian flag .

How soon do we expect to see this new project come to fruition?
May be I have jumped the gun, we have not signed the dotted lines yet but I think between a month or two we should have signed the dotted lines

This is wonderful
It is wonderful, it shows that Nigerians can do it, there are many stars out there who are laying fallow, who are not able to brave what to brave but they have what it takes to get there.

Our hope is that as they see this kind of opportunity coming up and we making a success of it, then they are encouraged to say that if Starz can do it we can do it also.
They should be able to ask Greg how he did, I should be able to share my experience.


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