June 8, 2009

Nigeria loses $1.5bn to foreign seafarers – NIMASA boss

By Oscarline Onwuemenyi
THE dearth of skilled  personnel to man vessels operating in the country has cost the nation about $1.5 billion as wages paid to foreign seafarers, mainly Filipinos, operating in the country.

Also, in spite of the hues and cries over growing unemployment and the dearth of well_paying jobs in the country, Nigeria is said to have a shortfall of skilled personnel for over 50,000 positions in the oil and gas as well as maritime sectors.

These disclosures were made on Thursday by the Director_General of the National Maritime Administration and, Mr. Shamsudeen Dosunmu, during a visit to the Executive Secretary of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund, Engr. Muttaqua Rabe Darma, in Abuja .

Dosunmu noted that the lack of well_trained and certified seafarers was greatly undermining the local content initiative of the government, adding that “an estimated $1.5 billion was reportedly earned annually by foreign seafarers operating in the country.”

He further noted that unlike a country like Phillipines, which has  population of less than 80 million but has 48 maritime academies, “ Nigeria , with almost double the population of Phillipines has only one maritime academy, in Oron.”

He said, “ Nigeria only has not more than 2,500 qualified seafarers. We have an estimated 50,000 jobs in the maritime and off_shore petroleum exploration sectors, and with the developments in the sectors, including the coming on_stream of the Brass LNG and other such projects, this figure is increasing by the day.”

According to him, the human element is critical to any sea endeavour, including shipping and oil and gas exploration.
“Presently, more than 70% of seafarers operating in Nigeria are foreigners, and we are paying them huge salaries, since remuneration in the industry is regulated internationally.

“ Nigeria has a lot of engineers, many of them unemployed, and we have a teeming youth population that could be trained in the special demands of the industry to take up these jobs, so as to decrease the outrageous flight of capital from our economy,” he added.

The NIMASA boss further noted that over 50 per cent of Nigerians sponsored by the PTDF for their masters degree programmes in oil and gas disciplines in top schools in the United Kingdom are yet to be employed in the Nigerian industry.

Dosunmu, therefore, sought the collaboration of the PTDF towards capacity development for Nigerians in the maritime as well as oil and gas sectors, adding that, “There is a natural linkage between maritime and the petroleum exploration, and it is only sensible to train nationals in these areas so that the country can take advantage of huge gains in both sectors.”

In his response, the Executive Secretary of PTDF regretted that the Fund had neglected “a vital mid_stream sector of the industry,” adding, however, that it had focused on “areas of perceived need in the oil and gas sector.”
Darma said the Fund would work with NIMASA and other operators in the oil and gas sector to train Nigerians in deep sea, mechanical and process engineering for the petroleum industry.

He, however, regretted that a good number of skilled personnel trained at huge expenses by the Fund in overseas institutions do not get employment upon return to Nigeria, adding that half of those who are currently working are engaged in jobs unrelated to their training.

Training each of the 895 M.SC scholars cost government 25,000 pounds while their Ph.D counterparts cost government 75,000 pounds each.

He added, “Due to the high demand for scholarship by many Nigerians in specialized oil and gas training, the Fund is working with some universities in the country who offer courses in petroleum development technology to upgrade their course to meet international standards to be able to accommodate a good number of these students.”