By Godwin Oritse
A certified chartered marine surveyor, trainer and resource person, Capt Anthony Onoharigho, Ph.D, has advised the federal government to consider establishing a coast guard or engage a private maritime security to compliment the Nigeria Navy, saying the latter does not have the required capacity and manpower to fight insecurity and protect our territorial waters.
Onoharigho who doubles as a maritime trainer condemned the wide spread practice of taking ships outside Nigeria by their owners for dry docking, saying ship owners who engage in such practice don’t mean well for the growth of Nigeria as he argue that the country has the capacity to handle dry docking services.
The former National President of Nigerian Institute of Shipping and current Deputy Registrar, Liberia Maritime Authority, in a media chat traced maritime insecurity to numerous factors which includes unemployment, mass poverty, hunger social and economic frustrations, lack of youths development initiatives; instability in the educational calendar etc.
Capt Onoharigho said the issue of the nation’s maritime insecurity is a regional one, which cuts across boundaries and frontiers.
He said, “In the US, they have coast guards, we have the Navy but do we have them enough to police the entire territorial waters? Even if we do, people are hungry in this country as such they are prepared to do anything to make the water unsafe. If we compliment the role of the navy with another security outfit to protect our coastlines, it will help us greatly because we are losing so much every day in our territorial waters to pirates and so on.
“People go to United Arab Emirate everyday yet our children have been home because of strike. We need to address the insecurity problem. Our land is not safe; the water is not safe though the navy and army are doing their best.”
Giving a graphic picture of the level of insecurity and how it affects national, regional, continental and international shipping, Onoharigho said insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea has become so bad that sailors and shipping lines now resort to self help in the fight against maritime insecurity.
“A time came we went for the Gulf of Guinea conference and everyone was worried. It got to a point that when people sail in the waters they carry arms to protect their vessels and crew.”
Speaking about the issue of dry docking and the avoidable capital flight suffered in the course of seeking dry docking services outside the shores of the country by numerous development partners and shipping companies, Onoharigho said although ship owners are at liberty to dry dock their ships wherever they deem fit, he expressed dismay that those who find Nigeria market attractive for vast maritime trade but chose to go elsewhere to dry dock their vessels cannot be termed as loyal trade partners or patriotic citizens.
“Well, ship owners have the right to take their vessels for dry docking anywhere in the world. But before now Cameroun, South Africa and Abijan were the destinations for dry docking of vessels in West Africa. But why should a ship owner take a vessel to Abijan or South Africa for dry docking like you asked? Ordinarily, I don’t have a dry dock but I engage the service of dry docking company for maintenance. We should encourage people to do dry docking of their ships in Nigeria.”
In the same vein, he noted that Nigeria’s dry docking industry has the manpower, technology, tools and skills, and have come a long way to be able to deliver world class services and to compete.
“Nigerdock and NISCO trained so many persons that can do welding and maintenance of vessels, besides we have people who have gone outside Nigeria to specialize in dry docking and have established their own dry docking facilities.
So it is not a matter of whether we have our own manpower, it is a function of patronage and mindset of ship owners. The problem for now is that there is no patronage for indigenous dry docking companies, people doing business with us should develop the mindset to patronize our local docking companies.”
As a marine surveyor and sailor with international exposure, he explained that seafaring is an international trade that serves as huge revenue base for marine nations like Nigeria; and averred that Nigeria has what it takes not only to participate actively in global seafaring, but to earn meaningfully from sea trade.
“Many maritime nations survive on sea trade like Philippines which depend on earnings from seafaring. Many maritime nations’ economies are dependent on income from maritime and its allied services. So we need more sailors in Nigeria because most of the ships are manned by foreigners especially Philippines. But with the upgrade in facilities in Maritime Academy of Nigeria Oron and the role of NIMASA things are certainly going to get better.”
He lamented that cartels in the international oil companies (IOCs) have systematically blocked Nigerians from participating in the nation’s coastal trade, and blamed the challenge on the culture of elite Nigerians helping foreigners to ease out the locals through unacceptable policy manipulations.
“As a marine surveyor my role is to make sure that a ship is sea worthy before it can sail in our territorial waters. It requires a lot of intelligence to be a ship surveyor and I have been doing it for years. I was the representative of IRS for 4 years before I went to Conarina Group a company based in Miami, United states.
“One thing I have discovered is that most international oil companies, IOCs, formed cartels and that is why they are the only companies hired in our territorial waters and coastal trade. Even our local vessels owned by indigenous operators suffer the same fate. Unfortunately, it is high heeled Nigerians in advantage positions in the regulatory corporate offices that sides with these foreigners to push indigenous operators out of business through policy manipulations.
“But generally speaking shipping or maritime is very broad. Apart from crewing a vessel/ship, you need to register the vessel, the ships or vessels will be inspected from time to time through flag state inspection, aside equipping them with the necessary radio/communication facilities and personnel. The maritime and its allied industries can create so much resource that is three times what we get from crude oil in Nigeria in addition to generating so much employment for our teeming youths.”