A Maritime lawyer, Adaeze Okeke has identified digitalisation and green shipping as essential concepts maritime professionals must pay attention to in order to remain relevant in the global space.

Okere who was speaking during an interview with Maritime TV at the weekend admonished practitioners in the sector to prioritise these concepts.

Describing shipping as essential around the world, she also noted that it has been responsible for a high degree of damage to the environment.

Her words: “Climate change is real and the shipping industry is one of the major polluters. Pollution doesn’t only entail oil spillage but other issues that arise from accidents, ballast water, among others. For example;, a ship travelling from the US takes ballast water in USA and discharges the water in China the problem is that the species in the US aren’t the same with those in China or Africa or whenever the ship has sailed to.”

“This causes huge damage in terms of fishing as some communities have lost their means of livelihood. There are also cases where some organisms attach to ships and become invasive species that kill aquatic life in other places. Since shipping accounts for more than 90% of global trade, we must be interested in how to make it more environmentally friendly and not contribute adversely to climate change.”

On the new regulation of emission from ships, she commended the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) efforts to regulate this with the 2020 low sulphur regime, adding that shipping companies are trying to comply to the new regulation but at the same time make profits.

She also stressed the importance of digitalisation and other innovative concepts, saying that “the shipping industry has been in existence for centuries but development and changes have been consistent. One should be able to stay relevant and updated with the new demands and ways of doing things to achieve success in the industry.”

Noting that Nigerians in diaspora have to contend with a stereotype that Nigerians shouldn’t be taken seriously, she encouraged such individuals to be knowledge driven, intelligent and outspoken.

Okeke, however, insisted that the maritime sector in Nigeria would record any significant success until the government develops a strategic plan that should address crucial issues such as marine engineering, illegal fishing, seafaring, among others.

“Every aspect of the Maritime sector is important. Nigeria usually does window dressing to support the industry and the focus is usually seafarers. In my opinion, this is only scratching the surface. There are other major areas like Maritime engineering that the nation could also focus on.”

“Look at countries like Bangladesh, India, among others, their major exports in shipping is scraps. Initially, I thought this was just the end products or waste from ships but that is a hugely lucrative industry. It is not capital intensive and the government could go into it with some political will. We don’t need to send people to universities to carry out these jobs, they only need to be trained technically. There are already too many ships abandoned in Nigeria but you wouldn’t believe how much the country can make from the scraps. It might interest you to know that most people who build hotels buy scraps,” she said.

Okeke also decried the low patronage of Nigerian maritime lawyers by the shipping community, lamenting that maritime law practice in the country has been relegated to ‘charge and bail’ services.

“If a Nigerian wants to buy a ship, one would have to go to Lloyds in the United Kingdom for a lawyer. Nevertheless, we have Nigerian Maritime lawyers who trained in the UK but the buyers would usually go with the UK lawyers. When there are disputes and claims most operators would still prefer foreign lawyers. What Nigerian lawyers practice in the country can be likened to charge and bail service amid the huge opportunities in maritime law. There is also a huge infighting between the Maritime lawyers and their companies. These are constitutional issues that good government and good planning could sort out,” she posited.

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