The recent Marine Notice issued by the management of the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) to Ship Masters, Ship owners and other operators whose vessels currently enjoy some level of security at the designated anchorage, seems to signal fresh battle of the Secured Anchorage Area, SAA, controversy.
The latest move is coming despite the intervention of the National Assembly on issue which has almost tore apart frontline operator of the Lagos area Secured Anchorage Area, Ocean Marine Solution Limited and the management of NPA under the leadership of Hadiza Bala Usman, the Managing Director.
At the peak of the dispute between the operator and the Authority, the Senate intervened ordering that the status quo remain, thus restricting the management of NPA from taking any action that will stop OMSL from carrying out its activities. But the new move, that is the issuance of a marine notice may just generate fresh crisis. Concerned stakeholders think this may further impact the nation’s economy negatively even as it struggles to survive the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
While striving not to repeat facts that already in the public domain and have been stated severally, it is important to emphasise that the collaboration between the Ocean Marine Solution Limited and the Nigerian Navy predates the emergence of the current management of the NPA even as OMSL had stated it also received approval from the Navy to run the operations.
Although some industry watchers have attributed the unfolding scenario to a lack of understanding of the importance of the service being rendered by OMSL to the nation’s maritime industry in particular and the Gulf of Guinea in general, others believe that it is propelled by the Nigerian fact.
Those who hold the later view wonder why the NPA management after the decision of the nation’s Senate, is insisting that it is not bond by such.
The NPA administration had while explaining the latest marine notice it issued stated that, “A Committee of the National Assembly can only play an advisory role in this matter, NPA is not compelled to abide by their directive.”
Many say this attempt will create a face-off between the Agency and the National Assembly and argue that this is usually not in national interest. The management of OMSL however seems calm as it has refused to join issues with anybody except for the invitation of the National Assembly which it honoured.
Following the intervention by the National Assembly, OMSL has continued to provide security service at the anchorage for ship owners who anchor their vessels at the designated area. Hence the industry is intrigued by NPA’s move against the National Assembly decision on the matter.
While it is a fact that NPA is the agency responsible for the administration of the ports across the country, the statutorily responsibility for the much needed security and safety of the maritime domain falls within the purview of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
Even though the Nigerian Navy that is also saddled with the constitutional responsibility of providing the required security is said to be in collaboration with OMSL, there are indications that the management of OMSL is willing and ready to partner with the Nigerian Ports Authority on the secured anchorage area for the larger interest of the nation and its economy.
Stakeholders are however of the opinion that if the security arrangement in the Lagos Anchorage District is replicated in the Eastern ports, it will curb the issue of insecurity currently being experienced in that axis and boost the economy of the Eastern flanks. Moreover, since OMSL does not have any direct business dealings with NPA as the relationship in question is with the Nigerian Navy, purely for security purposes and not port operations, stakeholders are of the view that the port management can and should better concentrate on the more pressings issues. This includes the challenges of bad port access roads, port congestion and putting in place an efficient system that should also be cost effective.
NPA should also know that as a result of the collaborative effort of both OMSL and the Navy, vessels at the anchorage cannot be arrested. Recall that the Ports Authority, late last year warned vessels against anchoring at the Secured Anchorage Area and threatened to arrest any ship found within the axis, but the threat did not survive as ship owners preferred to go for proven security facility even at a higher cost rather than risk the danger inherent.
Piracy which is the fundamental reason for the anchorage initiative poses a great challenge for the country. The threat to national economy according to the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel Report as the 2019 report showed that Nigeria lost approximately $2.8 billion in 2018 due to crude oil and maritime crimes.
A maritime analyst, Emeka Ejiofor, who spoke on the renewed efforts to curb OMSL’s involvement in the SAA project noted that the action will cost the country more than can be imagined.
His words: “The disruption of the SAA arrangement operated by OMSL might cause the shipping community in the country huge loss as ships may be compelled to divert goods destined to Nigeria to other countries which will not do the country’s economy any good.
“Diversion of goods to neighbouring countries will surely have a catastrophic effect on our economy, this is why it is surprising that this is coming from those who should know better.”