By Godfrey Bivbere
Experts in the maritime industry have stressed the need for the federal government to maintain a viable National fleet if the country most achieve its much orchestrated Vision 20-20-20.
The above view was expressed at the gathering of international maritime experts at the recently held First Annual National Shipping Conference organised by The Nigeria Shippersâ€™ Council in Abuja.
Wondering why Nigeria cannot maintain a shipping line even when less endowed nations such as Ethiopia have done so to the advantage of their economies, the conference of experts stressed that owning a viable national fleet to carry its export and import cargo is the only way Nigeria can develop economically and attain the goals of Vision 20-20-20.
They noted that the nation should stop to rue the collapse of the Nigeria National Shipping Line and pick itself together to establish another National Shipping Line having learnt its lessons from the previous experience.
Speaking on the issue in his presentation titled â€œThe Imperative of Having Indigenous Merchant Fleet in Nigeria,â€ Professor Olakas Ademun-Odeka , a maritime and business consultant based in Southampton UK recalled that one of the reasons why Nigeriaâ€™s initial attempt at owning a national fleet collapsed was because of insufficient cargo but that this has changed as Nigeria now has enough import and export cargo to sustain a national carrier.
He noted that Nigeria is a regional power, an international player, and a member of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Council with sufficient ports and huge oil and gas resources. He therefore wondered why Nigeria which has all it takes to maintain a strong national fleet should
continue to leave the carriage of its import and export, especially crude oil in the hands of foreigners who have the audacity to charge for their services in foreign currencies..
Regretting that Nigeria is a â€œlarge country punching below its weight in international maritime transport,â€ Prof. Odeka said that several options are open to Nigeria with regards to owning a national fleet. Either it decides to do nothing and continue to allow foreign interests to continue to determine
the direction of her international trade or put the memory of NNSL behind her and forge ahead. He said that if Nigeria decides to build a national fleet, it could do this through direct participation, going into joint ventures or lateral and multilateral trade agreements by having navigation treaty.
He emphasized the importance of a national fleet, saying that Nigeria should establish a national fleet as a prerequisite for economic development, national prestige, national defence and security, employment generation as well as for balance of payments purposes.
â€œShipping as a leading carrier of international trade, is still the most important sources of both earnings and saving of foreign currency,â€ he stressed.