By Edward Osagie
Just as Life’s roughest storms prove the strength of our anchors, so it is with the Nigerian maritime sector as the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic proved to test the character of its managers.
When President Muhammadu Buhari appointed the new leadership at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA in March 2020, the Dr Bashir Jamoh led team had barely taken over the mantle of leadership when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. And the lockdown started.
In fact, the new leadership at NIMASA was less than two weeks in office when the Presidential task force declared a total lockdown in Nigeria. Thanks to the fact that President Buhari had appointed a technocrat in the person of Dr Jamoh with about three decades of experience to steer the affairs at NIMASA. This perhaps explains why the NIMASA Management was able to hit the ground running with a clear vision of enhancing maritime safety, security and shipping development in the country.
Nobody envisaged that COVID-19 would attack the human race in 2020 the way it did and survival was the first instinct. Moving with the tide, safety in the face of COVID-19 pandemic became the immediate priority. Dr Jamoh and his team wasted no time in putting in place measures to ensure the survival of the Nigerian maritime industry.
Declaration of Seafarers as essential workers
I am sure it is fresh in the minds of Nigerians the near-total lockdown of the country in the second quarter of the year 2020. It was the trend at that time, meaning no movement. The air industry was grounded and vehicular movement within the country was also stopped. So effectively, seafarers were stranded. Those at home could not return to their jobs while those onboard vessels remained onboard longer than necessary and acceptable under international regulations as contained in the MLC 2006 Convention.
Dockworkers were also affected. Statistics showed that over 160,000 seafarers were stranded globally. It was the ingenuity of the NIMASA Management under Dr Jamoh who thought it wise to quickly declare seafarers and dockworkers as essential workers, thus exempting them from travel restrictions. Nigeria, through NIMASA, was the very first country in Africa to declare seafarers as essential workers, thus giving them special status to facilitate their movement thus facilitating crew change.
This action was in line with IMO’s desire to lift barriers to crew change amid the coronavirus pandemic. The guideline by NIMASA made it possible for dockworkers to be granted passage between their places of abode and the seaports, terminals and jetties.
Extension of validity of Seafarers certificate
Decisions during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic needed to be swift and smart. Jamoh and his team identified the challenge of job losses because of the inability to renew licenses, shipowners, dockworkers, seafarers and small craft owners were to be affected. This looming crisis was averted by the decision of NIMASA Management to extend the validity of various certificates to enable vessel owners, masters of ships, seafarers, continue performing duties in view of the COVID19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown in Nigeria. NIMASA worked in lockstep with the IMO to extend the validity period of seafarers certificates.
The Agency extended the validity of statutory Certificate of Competency of Seafarers and trading certificates for all Nigerian registered vessels. This include, STCW certificates, medical certificates, Ship Registry Certificates, and national requirements for power Driven Small Craft and Maritime Labour Convention certificates. The NIMASA DG had made it clear that the Agency was prepared to weather the storm resulting from the COVID19 pandemic.
NIMASA worked closely with shipowners and employers of labour in the maritime industry to take necessary proactive measures to lessen the pains of covid19. Little wonder, the President General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, MWUN, Comrade Isaac Adeyanju commended Jamoh and his team for a job well done. In his words “I must congratulate the NIMASA DG and his team for their creativity. We have enjoyed peace despite covid19 because of the way they managed employees and employers relationship in the past one year”.
Security is priority
The issue of insecurity and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, which Nigeria is a major part of has been there for a while now. Past Administrations have attempted to deal with the issue with minimal success. However, what the Jamoh led Administration at NIMASA is doing differently is tackling the issue from the root cause. It’s been established that there is an international conspiracy to the issue of Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
And the need for the Maritime Administration in Nigeria and major maritime stakeholders globally to be on the same page cannot be overemphasized. So in May 2020, an industry working group chaired by NIMASA was created. This perhaps is a major step in finding a lasting solution to the issue of insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea as Dr Jamoh on monthly basis chairs a meeting which has international majors such as Oil Companies International Marine Forum, OCIMF, International Chamber of Shipping, ICS, and the Baltic and International Maritime Council, BIMCO in attendance. Others include the International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners, INTERCARGO and INTERTANCO
Let us also not lose sight of the fact that the fight against piracy and other crimes on Nigerian waters is gaining grounds gradually. The arrest of alleged pirates who eventually went on trials in 2020 was the very first-time such arrest was made in Nigerian waters in the past decade. These renewed efforts are a result of improved inter Agency collaboration between NIMASA and all other security outfits in Nigeria. On the back of the new partnership between NIMASA and the Navy, the country has made record arrests of pirates, with some already facing prosecution.
The Federal High Court in Port Harcourt has convicted three persons accused of involvement in the hijack of an Equatorial Guinean flagged vessel named, MV ELOBEY VI, off Equatorial Guinea’s coast on March 2020.
The conviction is the first since the signing into law of the SPOMO Act in June 2019 by President Muhammadu Buhari. “The Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Crimes (SPOMO) Act 2019 has come to stay and it is a victory for Nigeria as a whole as we are determined more than ever before take our rightful place in the comity of maritime nations.”
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The International Maritime Organisation, IMO, delivered a glowing appraisal of Nigeria’s effort to stem piracy in its waters and the Gulf of Guinea.
Secretary-General, Kitack Lim, commended the country for sending a “strong and valuable message” to the global community. Lim also commended Dr Bashir Jamoh, for his brave and dynamic approach to maritime security. This commendation was contained in a letter personally signed by the IMO Secretary-General, Kitack Lim, in June 2020. This simply is a testament that Dr Jamoh-led Management at NIMASA is heading in the right direction.
Lim said he was impressed by Nigeria’s efforts “to address maritime security threats in the region,” adding that Jamoh’s “leadership and proactive response” to maritime security issues were laudable.
“I would also like to reiterate my congratulations to the Nigerian Navy on the successful capture and arrest of pirates from the fishing trawler Hailufeng II, and more recently on the rescue of the crewmembers of the containership Tommi Ritscher,” Lim stated in the letter. “Those actions, together with all the other initiatives you highlighted in our meeting, including progress with the Deep Blue Project, send a strong and valuable message to the international community with respect to the considerable efforts your Government is making to curb piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Gulf of Guinea,” he added.
It is noteworthy that most of these achievements by the current leadership at NIMASA were mainly due to their ingenuity. There was no precedence to make reference to in riding the stormy weather brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic in the Nigerian maritime sector. One thing is certain, the Dr Bashir Jamoh led Management at NIMASA has put in place the basics needed to better harness the potentials of the Nigerian Maritime industry.
All hands are on deck, Jamoh has his hands firmly on the plough, and there is no looking back. The goals is very clear, Nigeria maritime industry is heading in the right direction. You cannot cross the sea by merely standing and staring at the water, its time to join the team at NIMASA on this voyage to lose sight off the shore in the quest to harness Nigeria’s maritime potentials and develop a virile blue economy as a major alternative to the oil industry.
OSAGIE Edward is an Assistant Director, Corporate Communications, at NIMASA.