•Charge $10,000 to $20,000
•Maritime, security agencies indicted
By Godfrey Bivbere
SOME influential Nigerians (top politicians and military personnel) and foreigners in collaboration with maritime agencies are collecting between $10,000 and $20,000 as anchorage fees from big tanker vessels that bring petroleum products into the country for Ship-To-Ship (STS) transfer.
An anchorage is a location at sea where ships can lower anchors. The location usually has conditions for safe anchorage in protection from weather conditions, and other hazards.
The anchorage was created by the Goodluck Jonathan administration through the advice of the “Committee on Harnessing of Maritime Potentials” at a time when big tanker vessels were refusing to enter the nation’s waters at the height of activities of pirates along the country’s seashore.
Such vessels then were discharging at Cotonou, Benin Republic and Lome, Togo to avoid pirate attacks. Consequently, the Navy was directed to provide security for big tanker vessels scared of coming into the country to berth.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a maritime operator told Vanguard that the illegal business has been going on unchallenged because most of the government agencies in the maritime sector that are supposed to raise alarm are involved in it.
The source said that the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, the Nigerian Navy etc are aware of the business. Jonathan’s administration through the advice of the “Committee on Harnessing of Maritime Potentials,” had created the anchorage with a directive that the Navy provide security for big tanker vessels scared of coming into the country to berth.
Confirming the existence of the illegal business, pioneer Chairman of the Indigenous Ship-owners Association of Nigeria, ISAN, now Nigeria Ship-owners Association, NISA, Chief Isaac Jolapamo, said that a cabal has taken over the area and are running the place like a venture.
According to Jolapamo, “I want to think that on the basis of political appointments and actions based on political considerations, we cannot develop shipping. Political patronage is now more pronounced. During the administration of Goodluck Jonathan, there was a committee on harnessing of maritime potentials and one of their recommendations is that big ships should be coming to Lagos anchorage. An area should be created where the ships will be berthing and then they will be provided with security.
“In this new regime, that anchorage area has been created and is being run by some influential Nigerians (I won’t mention their names) with some foreigners and it’s like a cash cow to them as against what they are trying to prevent. It is supposed to be an anchorage area where the Nigerian Navy is supposed to provide visiting ships with protection to reduce this piracy problem.
It was to allow ships that cannot come to the country as a result of piracy and therefore berth at Cotonou and Togo, to start coming. “Now it has been turned into a business venture. Is it not a naval facility? It is an anchorage that was earmarked for vessels coming in; it is supposed to be outside Lagos anchorage.
I do not know whether they are giving Navy something from what they are collecting, it is a big business, they are charging between $10,000 to $20,000. The Navy cannot say they do not know what is happening there but the genesis of it is not for them to make money for themselves but for us (shipping industry) to have a secured anchorage area in Nigeria.”
Deputy National President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, NCMDLCA, Uchu Block, said he is not aware of the said anchorage and does not know whether the illegal collection is true or not but noted that it is not impossible.
Block called on the relevant authorities to ensure that the allegation is properly investigated and those behind it brought to book if it is found to be true. He noted that there are so many illegalities in the sector and there is need for government to take a serious look at the industry if it must benefit from the huge potentials.
The Head of Corporate Communications, NIMASA, Hajia Lami Tumaka, however denied the involvement of the staff of the agency adding that the recent reduction in piracy makes the claim unreal.
According to her, “I am not aware of any charges for using a certain safe corridor in the Nigerian maritime domain. And it is preposterous that NIMASA officials together with the Nigerian Navy are co-travelers in this alleged illegality.
“You will recall that piracy and hijacking incidents in Nigerian waters have reduced drastically with Lagos even registering zero incidents in the last quarter. That vessel owners who are business people, will go ahead to pay whooping sums when the Nigerian Navy and NIMASA have guaranteed security as their constitutional mandate beggars belief.
For the records, there are increased patrols of our maritime domain and the stance of the Agency and the naval leadership on illegality in our maritime domain is clear – it’s zero tolerance. However, the Agency will be happy to investigate any evidence you have with a view to mete out appropriate sanctions to deter others who may want to defraud legitimate businesses and tarnish the reputation of maritime agencies.”
When contacted on Tuesday 11th October, 2016, General Manager in charge of Public Affairs, NPA, Chief Michael Ajayi, said that he would get in touch with the Habour Master and get back to Vanguard. As at Friday 13th October, 2016, Vanguard again contacted Chief Ajayi who said he has not gotten feedback from Habour Master.
Again on the 20th Vanguard contacted him, he said that the Harbour Master has still not gotten back to him. When contacted, Officer in Charge of information, Western Navy Command, Lt. Cdr. Chinwe Umar, said she was in a meeting and will call back but she never did.
Managing Director of Union Admiralty Ltd, Ibi Seddon, in his reaction said he is not aware of any such anchorage and whether fees are being charged. He however disclosed that he is aware that any tanker vessel that wants to come into Nigerian waters to do Ship-to-ship transfer must get Navy clearance. He pointed out that the practice has been there for a long time.
According to him, “Presently before you load, you must get Navy clearance. In off- Benin or off -Togo waters, you do not need Navy clearance, you just go there and immediately you load.
They are still doing so up till now. If it is in the Nigerian waters, you must get Navy clearance before you do what is called ship to ship transfer. If you do it there in the international waters off Benin or off Togo, Benin or Togo government will not worry them. Our people started pursuing them because of the security implications.”
On whether he was aware of money being collected for such protection, he said: “I do not think there is anything like that. If they have Navy clearance you can come into Nigerian waters to do your discharge. However, I know there was a time when some people were saying that for every STS, they need to get a commission but let us cool down and get more information. I will call you later. “