Captain Temilola Okesanjo is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the newly established NLNG Ship Management Limited (NSML). In this interview with Vanguard he spoke on the challenges of operating shipping activities in the Nigerian waters. Excerpts
By Godwin Oritse
WHAT informed NLNG to establish a shipping firm?
In my previous role I had the opportunity of kick-starting the shipping activities of Nigerian LNG in 1999, developing all it took to commence NLNG Shipping Operations at the inception of Cargo Production in September, 1999. I led major shipping activities and developments in NLNG, from the Nigerianisation programme, right up to the conceptual development, construction and chartering of six (6) newly built DFDE LNG Carriers to NLNG.
What do you mean by Nigerianisation?
When I talk about Nigerianisation, I am talking about what it takes for the ships owned by Bonny Gas Transport (BGT), BW Gas and Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) and chartered to NLNG, to be manned by Nigerians who are trained right from the development stage of cadetship up to captain and chief engineer levels respectively.
It goes beyond this, to developing these people into what we call superintendents for the purpose of managing ships; that is one of those things we acquired as part of our capacity development drive. Some have also become managers in the office.
Through different interventions, including Ship Management Knowledge Transfer Programme (SMKTA), Nigerians are today manning NLNG Ship Management Limited (NSML – a fully owned subsidiary of NLNG), right from the managing director to the vessels. Not only do we manage ships, we also manage terminals. The Bonny terminal, where we load Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) and condensate, is managed by Nigerians.
These are professionals who have been thoroughly developed in marine activities and who have acquired the capacity to make sure things are run and cargos delivered safely to customers’ terminals all around the world.
Who were the people managing these activities before now?
These two activities, terminal management and ship management, were done by one of the shareholders of NLNG. Whichever way you look at it, with the help and support of shareholders, we have been able to acquire this capacity. Today we are proud that we run terminals, we manage ships and we supervise the construction of our ships. That is what I mean by Nigerianisation.
How many people have undergone the training?
When you look at officers and cadets that have undergone this training, you will be looking at about 500 of them. When you look at personnel like ratings or cadets, they are between 700 and 800.
Do you train them from the scratch?
When we started the training programme, all we did was to identify people who have been given initial college training by maritime college or Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), Oron. We then took them to reputable colleges in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe for some training and international certification because, sadly, MAN does not have the capacity to issue international maritime certificates. But it is something that can be corrected. Within that context, these individuals were trained both at the college and at sea, and they continued on their career path to support and grow NLNG and the industry.
What informed the decision to establish Maritime Centre of Excellence (MCOE)
The Maritime Centre of Excellence (MCOE) is an outfit which we created for the purpose of domiciling all the knowledge that we at NLNG have acquired over time. In the process of chartering ships, creating commercial activities, constructing ships and managing terminals, Nigerians have acquired knowledge and participated actively in these areas. We deemed it necessary to keep these activities in-house and grow it in such a way that we can continuously grow more people and use that knowledge for the purpose of revolutionising the Nigerian shipping industry.
MCOE carries out a lot of activities. Some of them include things which go beyond simulation of maritime activities, like running courses which include maritime training, electronic chart display (ECDIS), high voltage training, ship-handling, marine pilotage and vessel traffic management systems (VTMS). We also carry out bespoke training services.
Apart from maritime training, MCOE also carries out research and consultancy. We can optimise the running of equipment onboard a ship and thus reduce the operating expenses of the ship owners. We can run model testing of ships that are going to be constructed. We provide maritime financial appraisal. So, if you want to build or charter ships, we can conduct a maritime appraisal of that business which you can take to the bank or financiers. We do “Quality, Health & Safety Manual” development and provide maritime standard services. We can also conduct technical evaluations in terms of Ship Registry & Flag State requirement; something that we have done for Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) before.
In addition, we do maritime project management. We can supervise vessel constructions, dry dock for you if you want to repair and/ or lay up your vessel if there is no activity for it. So, the Maritime Centre of Excellence was to domicile all the experiences that we have gotten as professionals and to utilise it for the purpose of growing the Nigerian shipping industry.
What is the cost nature of the project?
To put a cost to Maritime Centre of Excellence will depend on which cost you are considering. Is it the cost of the people who I call the software or the cost of the hardware. The hardware the simulators. The simulators averagely cost some $5 million. Is it the cost of the building? We inherited the building and renovated it. It goes beyond $2 million. The one I cannot quantify is the people trained right from cadetship to acquire a lot of knowledge and capacity. You cannot put monetary value to that.
How many ships does NLNG have in its fleet?
NLNG fleet consists of 23 LNG carrier today. Six of these ships are state-of-the-art, dual fuel diesel electric engine (DFDE) vessels with capacity of about 178,000 cubic meters.
These ships are currently settling down into the fleet and as you know, we have a very high safety record. We continue to traverse the oceans of the world without any incident or problem and making sure that our people provide the required support to the international maritime committee.
We do search and rescue for other communities and other nations. We make sure that we carry out our contributions within the context of the global maritime industry. So, for us as professionals, it is a pride that we contribute to the international maritime industry, in addition to the services we provide to NLNG.
The challenges stem from operating and maintaining these vessels. Maintaining these high class of vessels requires a level of technical knowhow. And you will agree with me that when it comes to looking for spare parts which are not available in Nigeria, we have to get most of them by bringing them in from our stock abroad.
This stock could well easily be on Bonny Island but we have customs restrictions. Things like these are no issues in other countries. To use those spare parts in Nigeria, we have to store them at the depot in France; something we could otherwise easily do here.
Another challenge is that the Nigerian waters have been declared a high risk area (HRA). It has been so for the past 10 years. So, we have to put a lot of efforts into ensuring safe passage of our ships. We had some support from the Navy and we have had to acquire some security vessels at significant cost. We pay higher insurance premium for protecting our people on board the ships. These challenges have always come and we have always found a way to mitigate them. We can’t say we are challenge-free; however, what is correct is that we always found ways to surmount them.