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How we’re aiding Nigerians to acquire own vessels, by NIMASA DG

Mr Temisan Omatseye, the director general of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, who just clocked 45, speaks, in this interview, on why the maritime industry is still at the infancy stage. According to him,  it is time for Nigerians to take over the business in the maritime sector.


Temisan Omatseye, DG, NIMASA

The seafarers development  programme is one of the laudable schemes of your agency but, from the look of things, the states have not really been responding to it the way they should. How would you react to that?

Well, you know we cannot rely hundred percent on the states. Each state was supposed to bring in twenty-five persons; we have sent twenty-seven in the first batch to India and we have just sent another 25 to Egypt. But, an oil company is about to train 150 persons and we are about to start discussing with the Ministry of Niger-Delta.

So, by the time we get those 350, that’s a lot of people to send out and we also need to be careful as well because we don’t want to over shoot our budgetary allocation on that even though they are paying 60 percent, remember the 40 percent still comes from NIMASA and we need to ensure that we are working within our budget. So, we are looking in the region of another 350 and so far it is a progrmme that is kicking off very well and it is going to continue.
How would you describe your own style of leadership?

Leadership is not just moving around, leadership is leading. But what normally happens is that I run an organization whereby I believe in one-on-one interaction .Sometimes, you see a lot of papers here to be signed but there are times that you just have a paper and you just want to know what it is all about. Many times, it is also an opportunity to go and visit the people and say how is it going, what is happening?  So,  leadership is caring and that’s why in various departments of NIMASA, everybody is calm because they don’t know when I am going to come out.

We are doing a prototype modern office, like those  in Europe. Work is not only a matter of paper work, it is the environment. People need to look forward to coming to office and enjoy their job. I keep telling everybody that this job I am doing, I have a hundred and ten percent job satisfaction .So, you can’t give me anything else. |

Also,  I understand the industry. So you can imagine a guy that loves his job and understands the industry together, it is a chemistry that I don’t think can explode. The chief officers are the engine room of this organization and if you don’t keep them well oiled, the organization is going to run to a stop. To me, leadership is just one-on-one interaction, I need to know my people, feel them, know how they are feeling because, at the end of the day, they are the ones doing the job.

Over the years, there has been a running battle between NIMASA and indigenous ship owners, who are of the view that the country’s cabotage policy exists only as a concept since the foreign operators still dominate both deep sea, inland and coastal shipping activities in the country. What bold steps has your leadership taken to check the trend?

One thing I have to tell you is that we have had a bad experience with the Cabotage Ship Acquisition Fund. People saw the Ship Acquisition Fund as a national cake and came in there and never paid back, but, under my watch, the CVFF is not a national cake. It is not the money that will come in, that people will just come and take and believe that they can just go away and not pay. So, we need to do as much as a water tight procedure and processes for us to do that.

Secondly, the money we have in the CVFF is not enough to turn around our maritime industry, so let us all not think that way.

With 40 million dollars two vessels is finished and we need about 300 -  1000 million dollars to keep our waters operational but we must fulfill all righteousness. The CVFF is for Nigerian shipowners for them to use to buy vessels.  Right now,  I have a letter on my table which I am about to sign, we have  appointed four key allies. We have agreed on the interest rates. So,  the letter will be delivered to them soon. We are following the regulation to the letter; so once the letter goes to them, based on the interest rates we have all agreed because we have had a good meeting with them, thereafter they will now follow the procedure for disbursement.

But, let me tell you one thing, the ability of us to turn around our maritime industry cannot ride on the CVFF. Notice, CVFF is Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund which is for just coastal trade vessel. I read in the papers recently that we are importing one million tonnes of rice not carried by one Nigerian vessel. We export 2.4million barrels of crude per day not carried by our vessels. We export gas not carried by Nigerian vessels. How are we going to develop our international trade and our national fleet ?

We do not have a national fleet. How do we begin to train our officers and men? If we don’t have a Nigerian flagged  vessel that go on international trade, how do we keep our seamen and cadets from Oron on board businesses for them to go on international trade. So,  we have narrowed down  too little on smalls things but I believe charity begins at home. Let’s develop our indigenous shipping and begin to use that to build our national capacity.

Recently, Starz Investment commissioned a tug boat which was built in a shipyard in South Africa. What was the role of your agency towards that; does that not constitute a violation of the Cabotage Act and what are you doing in the area of shipbuilding?

First of all, the role I played in Stars Marine’s operation is this. Stars did apply to First Bank and they were granted 85 percent facility;  along the way, I believe15 percent equity was also coming for them and they applied to us for us to give them 15 percent . When I took it to the ministry, they were not very comfortable with it because if we put in the 15 percent, where is our return investing and how are we going to get the money back? So, they took it to the board and the board said no, this is purely a transaction. If you wanted us to give you 85 percent, it was understandable as that could be a loan but for us to finance the equity, it was not possible for NIMASA, so we could not do it.

Bur fortunately for them, they were able to find a way and First Bank was able to go ahead and do whatever needed to be done on that. On the issue of ship building, from the next two years we have to grant waivers for the ships because we do not have the capacity, First of all,  we do not have the shipyard to do the ship building.

Second, we do not have even the manpower who are trained to do the ship building but things are going to change. The Navy and NIMASA have formed a joint committee where we are going to commercialize the naval dockyard. We are going to be shareholders and we are going to bring in the third party who is going to come in to operate and manage that shipyard on a commercial basis which means we are going to rehabilitate everything.

Aside from that, I have a company from Korea, Japan and one more company from somewhere who have come in and show their willingness to set up shipyards in Nigeria. Let’s be very sincere, 98 percent of the vessels trading in Nigerian waters were built abroad and that will still continue for a while. The only way we can change this is, first of all, even if we allow these vessels to be built abroad, we should ensure that they have a proportionate amount of Nigerians as welders at the shipyard to learn how to build vessels. Then we should give them exemptions.

Those are the kinds of things that we are not doing because what you are doing is that you are now building capacity on ship building, so that when the shipyard is ready the manpower to actually build these vessels are already domiciled here in Nigeria. What happens to the existing shipyards in Nigeria?

We have one ship yard in Onne which can build ships but it is only building right now aluminum boats but if you want to build the one for the Atlantic, that’s a major investment. So, they are building more of their own boats and not even building for third parties, they don’t even have space to build for third parties. Go to the shipyard  at Snake Island, it is booked for the next six months. You can’t even get space to dry dock not even talk of building a vessel there.
NIMASA played a crucial role to ensure that Nigerian was re-elected into International Maritime Organization Council. Now that the country has  moved up  into Category ‘C’, what is your agency doing to ensure that we consolidate on the success recorded?

There is only one way. I don’t believe  in the policy of flying all over the world and begging people to vote for us. I believe that IMO is a very technical organization and that’s why when I took on board in NIMASA, my focus was technical issues, the minimal requirements, those things that IMO has asked us that we have not done, we did them. So, when we went to IMO and  presented ourselves, we said these are the things you asked us to do, we have done them.  They said yes  and that is how we were able to garner 121 votes.

The country ahead of us got 123 votes, so we were two votes away from becoming 5th but I believe strongly that with 80 percent of the trade in West Africa, I don’t see why we cannot go for Category ‘B’ but it is competition.

At the Nigerian content conference in Abuja, you stressed the need for all to be cabotage compliant. Can you tell us the extent your agency has gone in addressing water and  environmental pollution?

The riot act was actually read to get people to be cabotage compliant and by January 14,  I had already drafted letter to the NPA to stop all foreign flagged vessels from entering Nigerian ports and I told the oil companies that and they responded but I could not proceed any further because, there are some issues in-house that I needed to sort out because the aim of NIMASA is not to shut down the oil industry; rather it is for compliance. If we do not have the capacity for compliance, there is no need for us jogging the industry down.

So, I have to take a step. On the issue of pollution,  recently we had the ballast water conference and also we are about to send the oil companies letters in which they would now follow what we call the ISM procedure for waste management. If you have been to the beach where these vessels were stocked, you cannot work there because the place is so dirty because shipowners or crewmen just threw their waste over board and it just ends up on our beach.

So, we need professionals who understand what it takes to run an organization like this. NIMASA is not NMA. We all remember what NCC used to be like, look at the NCC today.  So, let’s give NIMASA a chance as it is only two and half years old and we are going to get there.What is the update on wreck removal which was flagged of sometimes last year by your agency?

On wreck removal, we have a joint committee with NPA. Any wreck on the water channels where the vessels are sailing is being handled by NPA and those outside the channels are being removed by NIMASA but we are the receiver of wreck. So, even if  NPA takes away the wreck in the channels, they still have to give it back to us because we are the official receivers of wreck.

Already, a ministerial committee on wreck removal has been formed. They are starting with Lagos and we have discussed with the state governor and are about to start.. As a matter of fact, we are not even looking at just wreck but potential wreck.

It is also alleged that the helicopter NIMASA acquired for its search and rescue operations was on charter basis. What is the true position?

The helicopter was not on charter. What happens was that it was dedicated purely for search and rescue operations and it has not been in use for some time.  So, one of it’s engines started creating problems.  So, we have taken that engine out, sent it back to our booster as it is still under a warranty. So they are going to fix the engine and bring it back but when the helicopter comes back, it is not only going to be for search and rescue alone.

We are putting infrared cameras under-neath it for not only search and rescue operations but also for surveillance. So, the helicopter would be flying all over the anchorage, taking pictures and sending it back for us to see what is going on while the boats are penetrating. So, it is going to be a search and rescue and a surveillance helicopter.


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