…As NIMASA insists on review of modalities for disbursement
Some shipowners as well as industry watchers have expressed worries and fears about the continuing safety of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF), as speculations in public domain suggest change of some institutional heads, even in the maritime industry.
Presently, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), responsible for shipping development, collects the Sea Protection Levy, the Maritime Fund, as well as the CVFF, a two-per cent contribution backed by law, from every carriage contract, from shipping operators.
Investigation by NOMMA shows that while the CVFF collection, which began sequel to the enactment of the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act 2003, had already exceeded $150million, the Agency has not disclosed collection from both the Maritime Fund and the Sea Protection Levy.
While the Sea Protection Levy was instituted to bequeath Nigeria with cleaner waters, like other maritime nation’s like Benin Republic and Ghana, the nation’s waters remains a dirty brown, littered with plastics bottles, pure water sachets and human defecation.
Correspondents who visited both the Ijora and Otto Oyingbo axis in Lagos, saw commercial cart operators emptying bags of dirt into the lagoon; even as mini-tanker vehicles continue to pump human defecation into the water, with reckless abandon.
Subsequently, the nation’s waters particularly in Lagos are perpetually kept dirty; siltation is worsen by dregs and concerned stakeholders seek answers to what NIMASA is doing as the agency saddled with the responsibility with the Sea Protection Levy in its care .
A shipping operator bemoaned the situation of pirates attacks, particularly in the Niger Delta area, even as he noted the pronounced absence of automated monitoring drones.
“Go and ask them, they will confirm it: ship owners who operate in the Niger Delta zone are either paying the hoodlums heavy sums of Ship Protection Levy or they dash in and dash out, after concluding heavy private naval security on board!”
Sharing similar views, the President, Nigeria Indigenous Shipping Association (NISA), Aminu Umar, said ship-owners from first-hand experiences can actually say that pirates have taken control of Bonny Anchorage, leaving Warri Anchorage in precarious conditions, with only the Lagos anchorage being relatively safe.
He also lamented the ship-owners present state of utter helplessness, grieving the institutional laid-back disposition to shipowners degenerating situation.
Speaking further, Aminu Umar pleaded with the NIMASA to bring the money in its coffers, particularly the Cabotage fund since it was contributed by the shipowners, stressing that making it available for a judicious utilization by competent shipowners would serve Nigerians better.
He specifically called for immediately review of the modalities for the disbursement, noting that the time for action is now.
Umar said: “Finance is a key issue challenging growth of the sector. So the CVFF which we have been contributing for over 10 years should be disbursed as promised. If done, this will go a long way in assisting the players to buy some of these maritime assets.
“We have also not heard anything about the maritime fund, which NIMASA is holding. We hope this term, the Minister of transportation and the management of NIMASA will look into it and see if they can put both funds together for us to support our operations.”
The ship owner alleged that NIMASA had continued to fail on its promise and duty to disburse the CVFF, which is meant to support shipping development by way of acquisition of more vessels.
He pointedly identified the Agency’s failure to provide ships with safety nets as being responsible for vessels to engage private security personnel on board their vessels whenever they sailed to the Niger Delta Region.
Umar said: “Every ship owner that goes into the Delta has to take his own private security, and it is costing us a lot. Yet, every ship that comes or goes out of Nigeria pays a levy to fund securing of Nigeria waterways. Unfortunately, it is not done. And NIMASA is the agency saddled with that responsibility.
“But we hope that in the coming administration which this government is continuing, they would be able to create the safety net, to ensure safety of vessels, particularly in the Niger Delta area, which has been so dangerous.”
Also speaking on the CVFF issue, the outgoing President of Ship Owners Association of Nigerian (SOAN), Engr. Greg Ogeifun, said it was worrisome that the government through NIMASA is yet to disburse the CVFF to indigenous operators, making it difficult for them to compete favourably with other international players.
He was however optimistic as he believes that the ongoing collaboration with the Government and the NIMASA would turn the key and unlock the fund.
“I think Nigeria maritime sector has grown tremendously and the Nigerian content act is working with NIMASA to give opportunities to Nigerians who want to be ship owners.
“The challenge still remains that the funds that are statutorily designed to help the acquisition of ships by Nigerians are still being locked up by NIMASA and the ministry of transport.
“That fund has to be released to enable Nigerians acquire the ships and be able to take their rightful position, otherwise the opportunities for foreigners will continue to be there.”
Founder of the Indigenous Ship-owners Association of Nigeria (ISAN), Chief Isaac Jolapamo, expressed his disappointment in NIMASA for not disbursing the CVFF until now, after almost two decades.
The shipping guru said he had lost hopes on any positive development taking place, considering the plans, promises and the lack of actions.
He said: “I have lost hope on anything that has to do with the maritime industry and the CVFF. Though the CVFF cannot support acquisition of vessels that are needed, but it is something in the right direction. It is our contribution.”
Jolapamo said NIMASA had shown confusion on what to do, rather than consider a basic qualification of ship owners with high standard technical and commercial management experience, to access the funds.
He said that since the shipping sub-sector is an operator-induced one, NIMASA should do well to consider people with core competences, and disburse the funds to drive the plan for the industry growth and sustainability.
The ship owners also faulted NIMASA on insecurity of the nation’s maritime domain, where various maritime crimes have continued to strive.
The incoming SOAN President, Dr. McGeorge Onyung has in the meantime pledged to leave no stones unturned, until NIMASA disburses the CVFF.
Responding to clarify NIMASA’s position, the Director General of the agency, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, said ship-owners should no longer operate in fear as NIMASA has recently strengthened maritime security architecture.
He said: “We are acquiring Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). We are going to do air surveillance, we will acquire special mission aircrafts, special mission helicopters. We are going to be doing 24 hours surveillance on air, land and on the sea. (No time frame was indicated however).
“Once the Deep Blue Project comes on stream fully, it will take care of all security needs in our maritime domain and there will not be need for vessels to engage their own private security anymore, as we just want to ensure that every vessel is safe to navigate our waterways.”
He said that the CVFF currently has $150 million USD, and that the agency was reviewing the guidelines with intention of engaging the stakeholders preparatory to disbursement.
“For the CVFF, you know it is a creation of law and it is actually supposed to help bring down the cost of acquiring vessels and assets in the maritime industry. As we speak, we have over $150 million in the CVFF. We are currently reviewing the guidelines and we are going to engage with stakeholders.
“Mr President has given an approval, so, the moment we complete the review of the guidelines, we will put machinery in motion to disburse the CVFF,” Dakuku said.
He explained further that the “Sea Protection Levy” referred to by some ship-owners is a fund created by regulation and the regulation is pursuant to the MARPOL convention.
He said: “The sea protection levy has nothing to do with security, but to protect the sea from pollution. So, ship-owners are supposed to contribute some money to the sea protection levy, to enable us monitor the seas against pollution and to respond when there is pollution. But many persons keep mistaking the sea protection levy for a security levy.
“For the Maritime Fund, It is supposed to be used by NIMASA to develop maritime infrastructure, and to build maritime capacity. We are doing so many things with the fund, and one is the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). And the maritime fund is not for ship owners, it is for NIMASA to utilise to develop infrastructure.”
The ship-owners have, however, declared that they would only trust what the agency says when they begin to observe a change, in the right direction.