AN operator in the local shipping sector Oladipo Ogunwemimo spoke to Vanguard’s Godwin Oritse and registered their plight in trying to keep their heads above water in local shipping industry and inhibitions in trying to access the Cabotage Vessel Financing Funds from the four Primary Lending Institutions.
Below are excerpts.
Can you attest to the fact that there has been some relative security in fish trawling business particularly in the Niger Delta area?
The attacks on fishing trawlers in recent times has abated, the situation has calmed down a bit, the activities of the pirates and sea robbers have reduced considerably.
Right now the fish trawling business is picking up, it is just that we are still having problem of high cost of bunkers, that is, the fuel used to power these vessels is still very high.
What do you think could be responsible for this relative peace trawlers are enjoying?
I shall want to attribute the peace and security trawlers owners are enjoying to the amnesty programme of the Federal Government which to a large extent has checkmated the activities of militants.
Criminality in the creeks has reduced, piracy has reduced considerably since they started the amnesty programme.
Do we still have foreign dominance in the local shipping sector?
The local shipping industry is very much dominated by foreigners because the vessels of most Nigerian operators are not in class.
Most of the vessels own by indigenous operators have been trading for so many years and they also lack maintenance and care and most bigger vessels owned by foreigners will not allow these classless vessels come near them so most of the jobs are still being done by foreigners
Again Nigeria does not have a proper classification society, even the one we have here does not have international recognition and most of the P and I clubs are in Nigeria so you have to go abroad to do your insurance.
Would you also attribute the failure of the Cabotage law to the problem of classification too?
The government through NIMASA is the regulatory agency in the shipping sector which has started the process of assisting local operators to acquire vessels, but up till now that I am talking to you, nothing has come out of it and that is why most of us have not been able to acquire the kind of vessels we need to operate in oil and gas trading business.
Presently most of the vessels we have are old, besides, most of them are single hull and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is trying to phase out single hull vessels.
Again, because most of the available jobs in Nigeria are handled for foreigners, this has led to huge capital flight.
Again another major problem we have in Nigeria is the issue of dearth of personnel, most of our so called technical experts are not well trained, they do not know much about the job.
You hire a Nigerian Captain who runs your vessel aground and he is not always on board.I think they have to start by putting proper structure in place, we need to go back to basics.
How many schools are training seafarers now in Nigeria. We need people to train these boys to internationally acceptable standards.
An able man will call himself a Captain after working for five or six years, being a Captain is not just moving the vessels, they cannot give proper report, they cannot take records of cargo. In most cases, you have chains of shortages each time you go to take delivery of your cargo.
I am aware that there is an arrangement by NIMASA in collaboration with some four banks to give credit to ship owners how far have you gone ?
To the best of my knoeledge, they have appointed some banks to handle that, but how many indigenous shipowners have the banks given credit in the last six months or so.
Has the project started at all?
The project has started but the conditions are too stringent.
Right now, I am sure you are aware of happenings in the banking sector, that is what most of these banks are using as an excuse to avoid giving credit to people.
And again, they said you have to get a contracta before you acquire a vesse, in that contract, you state the type of vessels, based on that, you can now make a request for a loan.
papers with your contract papers, then you have to bring in your own equity, it could be 10% or thereabout.
Then they send surveyors on board the vessel for inspection.
The process is long though but the conditions are too stringent, the banks will not tell you that they are not going to give but you must meet the conditions.
I think what NIMASA should do is to compel the banks to tender a monthly report of the funds in their custody and I am sure that the banks are just using the funds to run their own operations.