Peter and Paul Cole are two young brothers that have transverse the Nigerian maritime industry for fourteen years.
In this interview with Godwin Oritse of Sweet crude, the shipping experts opined that the maritime industry is bedeviled by so many problems one of which is the issue of pilferage a menace they say has created a very bad image for the country before the international shipping community.
Having been in this industry for fifteen years, what is your impression of the Nigerian maritime industry with regards to the local shipping sub-sector?
There have been a lot of challenges, take the ports instance, the ports in Nigeria is far cry from other ports in the world.
There are issues that we still need to tackle in our that cannot happen in other ports, for example the issue pilferage has become a nightmare for ship owners as most of them do not want to come to Nigeria and when they decide to come, they charge much more their normal charges.
We have discovered that vessels do not like coming this way because of high level of pilferage and these are vessels that bring consumables.
I had an experience recently whereby a vessel that came to Lagos port. When the ship got to Lagos we had shortage of about 180 bags of rice after discharge, the same vessel recorded an excess of 250 bags after discharge in Cotonou port.
You can see that the pilferage in Cotonou port is almost not there when compared to Nigeria
When a vessel arrives at the port and we do about 60 trucks a day, we found that we lose between four and five bags of rice or any commodity for that matter on every truck. Calculate that and see for yourself what pilferage has done and is still doing to our ports.
There is need for the government to address this issue, we need to check this menace and run a reorientation programme for dockworkers who seem to be culprit in most cases
They now know that the moment a vessel comes in here they are bound to have a shortage and they are either made to pay for the shortage or their vessels stands the risk of being arrested and this has led to so many litigations and waste of money and time
The fear of ship-owners coming to Nigeria has suddenly become the beginning of wisdom, most ship-owners from Greece and Singapore do not like coming to Nigeria.
Another challenge facing the industry is the fact that we need new ports because the present ones have become too small to accommodate the increased volume of throughput.
The increased volume has also led to congestion because there are no enough berths for these ships to come in and discharge their cargoes.
At the end of the day if we are paying demurrage, the end users of these commodities are also made to pay for unwarranted cost.
These and so many others issues need to addressed, as I talk to you, I know we need new tug boats, pilot cutters and other port infrastructure that will make our ports compete with other ports of the world.
Beyond calling on the government to do something about the issue of pilferage in the ports in Nigeria, what have done in your personal capacity to secure your vessel when they are discharging?
We have done a lot; we have brought about a system whereby we do a joint tally with the PNI.
We do a joint tally between the receiver and the shipping company.
There is a system whereby we tally by sling and we do 60 bags per sling, after loading 50 bags, we sling the cargo out, ensure that another person is taking records of how bags are loaded into a truck.
So at the end of loading 1,200 bags (two trucks) that is about 24 slings we reconcile.
We have been able to curb excess loading, in term of pilferage we have been able to curb it to an extent whereby we try to talk to the dockworkers because most times they go blade and other sharp object with which they use to tear these bags intentionally so as to scoop these commodities.
So we try talking to them make happy by giving them incentives so that they do not tamper with our cargoes.
With this strategy, we have been recording less shortage on our vessels when we discharge. Over time
The last two vessels we handled we recorded a truck loss compare to sometimes four or five trucks of shortages
The last we handled, we had recorded a shortage of 189 bags of rice and the owners were impressed and happy that they gave a letter of recommendation because they came with the same cargo about six months ago and it was a disaster as they lost about seven trucks to pilferage
The Federal Government about three tears ago concessioned the ports with a promise that the end result will be reduction in the cost of clearing goods at the ports by as much as 30% but the reserve is the case presently what is your take on this
The concessioning of the ports was a very wrong move by government because we now pay more to clear our goods.
The only good that happened since the reform programme is that the dockworkers are better coordinated, the terminal are cleaner and better maintained and this could have been done by the government without necessarily concessioning the ports.
Operators in the local shipping industry have said the Cabotage law has failed Nigerians do you share this opinion?
Yes but for me I cannot blame government for the failure of the Cabotage law because it made provision in the law to encourage indigenous ship operators and owners
This reason for the failure of the Cabotage law is corruption and this problem of corruption was brought by the older generation of Nigerian coupled with bad leadership and this has robbed off on the young Nigerian entrepreneurs.
Has the intervention by the Central Bank of Nigeria in the banking sector affected businesses in the maritime sector in any way?
Yes I think it has affected the businesses in the sector very negatively especially the oil and gas sector because before Sanusi came to CBN banks gave credit lines to oil and gas companies to import products but right now they give such facilities any more and this has affected the industry but for the few refineries that are currently working we would have had another round of fuel crisis
Even with the working of these refineries DPK (Dual Purpose Kerosene) is still on the high side
These are some of the reasons that make me kick against deregulation of the banks.
In as much as the intervention has exposed the excesses of some the Chief executives of the banks, there are ways of bringing about changes without causing a dislocation in the system.
There is this of Nigerian bound Cargo finding their to the ports of neighbouring countries these are consigned to these and less duties are after which the goods are smuggled into Nigeria How would you react to this?
You are very right, we had an issue from around November last year to March this year and this is on rice.
If you recall Customs increased tariff on rice from $590 to $640 per ton and this has been creating problem for most importers who went into contractual agreement before the increase.
I personally went to Seme border and found that there are trucks of rice that comes into this country with paying duty.
They come with as much as 1,200 bags and you found out that some of these trucks make as much as four trips a day
Most of these trucks coming into Nigeria through the do not pay duty , you find that a truck pays duty just once and comes three times so for the other two trips the truck is not paying anything.
At the end of the day this whole thing boils down to corruption because we are Nigerians.
If we really want to make money, we should think of the interest of the country before the money we think we are making in these neighbouring country through which these goods come in, their systems are working but we are still struggling for the past fifty years.
It is right for us to think right and do the right thing
I was in Cotonou sometime and I heard that the government is trying to make their on rice zero percent because they know that Nigeria is trying to stop rice from coming through the border.
Do you think that this is a deliberate policy for Nigeria by the Beninese Government?