Olumide Omotoso, convener of the hydrographic group, the Nigerian Hydrographic Society, NHS, and the hydrographer of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, spoke with Godfrey Bivbere on the role of hydrography in the maritime industry, its function and importance as well as the opportunities the work of the hydrographer brings to all aspects of the maritime industry.
What is the role of hydrography in the maritime industry?
The role of hydrography in any maritime nation cannot be over-emphasised as that is the foundation that creates the opportunity in the water and navigation in general. If your waters are not safe or are not deep enough for your vessel, you cannot practice shipping because shipping first and foremost is based on navigable water.
So the role of hydrography is to define where the navigable waters are, where the obstructions in the waters are, what kind of ships can come into the water, what kind of buoys that we need to produce and so on and so forth.
We do studies to show channel which is the road on the water; What it is, where it is and how can it be managed. So those are the things hydrography does; to open up the shipping business and to open up the Maritime economy.
Without proper chatting of the water, we cannot start any business. So the first person that define anything in the maritime industry is the hydrographers, they tell you the part on the water that you have to pass.
We are the eyes of mariners, underwater; nobody sees under water. The hydrographer is there to tell you to follow me and I will lead you and show you the right way to go
Are the waters in Nigeria charted, do they have what is necessary for them to be navigable?
Most of our major rivers are chatted and up to date and from the point of knowledge, where I work, most of our major river is chatted. The Lagos port is well charted, the Bonny area is well charted and all the other ports are well chatted on a routine basis.
They are all charted depending on the requirements of each port. Ports are chatted depending on the program of the port and their priority and you know resources are not endless, so we privatise the chatting of our ports in such a way that we know how we get our revenues.
So it is prioritised. We do that because we do not have all the resources. I will tell you most of the waters leading into the ports are chatted and at any point in time it is advertised so there is a comfort for shipping from the hydrographic perspective.
So what you are saying, in essence, is that only the channels leading to the ports or around the ports are chatted, what about the other parts of our waters?
You see, there is what we call jurisdiction in the maritime space. Everybody has his own marine space, everyone has his own sphere of influence, and the layers of authority are defined.
We have National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA, port areas, territorial waters and so on. Nigerian Navy has its own territories, NPA, NIWA all has their own territories.
So, all the waters in Nigeria fall under a particular sphere of influence. So, what I am talking about is the one under my area of influence, the port area. I know the port authority, the port areas are well chatted and the chats are available, the data is there to give comfort to shippers.
So for the other areas, the capacity for hydrographic or what I call capacity building for hydrography is weak and almost lacking because as we speak there is no institution in Nigeria that trains hydrographers and we work hard now to ensure that we create hydrographic institution where hydrographers can be trained, that can maintain channel chart as at when required.
By opening up new areas, it is important we do this because for shipping to be sustainable, the hydrographic element needs to be very good so that you do not have a vessel and there is no part way to sail the vessel.
What are the risks if the waters are not charted, what are the risks available?
If waters are not charted, the risk is that most investors in the maritime world will not come to your country. As a serious maritime nation, you have to chart your waters because it takes away the elements of risk. Nobody will buy a vessel of N1billion and take it to uncharted waters. That will be high risk and that will also affect your premium and insurance you pay even if you are leasing the vessel because once the waters are not chatted it carries a lot of premium.
So what government does is if the waters are chatted, it gives comfort to development, it attracts foreign direct investments and it gives room to the expansion of the maritime domain.
The areas that are charted will attract investments as people are comfortable with the waters because it is navigable and everybody wants to go where they can close their eyes and sail through the waters.
You can define your channel using the buoys to demarcate the low and the shallow places and you can also use different aids of navigation to detect wrecks and other impediments to navigation.
This is the skill the hydrographer brings on board and then to make sure that both the sedimentation study, eastern-navigation studies, hydrographic study, all of them are parts of the things the hydrographer provides and brings to the table.
We are advocating that for a serious maritime nation like Nigeria, we need to have what is called the Nigerian or National Hydrographic Agency, NHA, or Council, whatever name you want to call it. If you have the Nigerian Boundary Commission, NBC, while will you not have NHA that chats your waters? The NHA will seat on top while we will be an agency that ensures that all the inventory of the rivers in Nigeria are known, their flow is determined to make sure they are navigable and predict their times and seasons for dredging so that both inland waters and all of them will be under one umbrella and will ensure that we are in good business because it is going to open up the island and ensure that the locations are rigged because once you have the data and you know a river is seasonal you do not want to take your boat there, that brings a lot of investment to the table.