Mulling diversification of the nation’s economy, maritime industry operators insist the industry is capable of fetching the country huge foreign exchange and identified challenges that could scupper the realisation of the potential, writes Olaseni Durojaiye
With declining foreign exchange receipts due to the volatility of the oil sector, the country’s economic mainstay, both in the international market and locally, public affairs analysts and economists have continued to consider alternative source of foreign exchange receipts for the country to shore up the nation’s revenue base. Their efforts to identify other sectors with huge revenue generation potential align with the policy shift of the federal government to diversify into other equally lucrative sectors, particularly where the country is perceived to have comparative advantage. Among the options they have identified are agriculture, solid minerals as well as the maritime sector.
The maritime sector is particularly viewed as strategic and the reasons for the conclusion are because it is international in nature with potential to generate foreign exchange, besides being considered a low hanging fruits with relatively quick harvest period.
Experts hold that the maritime sector is synonymous with shipping just as shipping is regarded as perhaps the most international of all of the world’s great industries and one fraught with huge risks.
Operators in the sector, while agreeing that it holds huge potential for the nation’s economic wellbeing, also noted that compliance with regulatory measures need to be accorded great importance for the country’s maritime profile to get to the level of Singapore and reap the inherent fortunes.
They opined that some of the challenges facing the maritime industry border on safety of life at sea (SOLAS), piracy and capacity building among others. They also noted the unrelenting efforts of the foremost global maritime regulatory body, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), and the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) to put in place policies to mitigate the huge dangers that the industry is faced with.
International Association of Classification Societies
online check revealed “The International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) is a technically based organisation consisting of twelve marine classification societies headquartered in London. Marine classification is a system for promoting the safety of life, property and the environment primarily through the establishment and verification of compliance with technical and engineering standards for the design, construction and life-cycle maintenance of ships, offshore units and other marine-related facilities. These standards are contained in rules established by each Society. IACS provides a forum within which the member societies can discuss, research and adopt technical criteria that enhance maritime safety.
“IACS is a non-governmental organisation; it also plays a role in the IMO, for which it provides technical support and guidance and develops unified interpretations of the international statutory regulations developed by the member states of IMO. Once adopted, these interpretations are applied by each IACS member society, when certifying compliance with the statutory regulations on behalf of authorising flag state.”
THISDAY findings among safety of life at sea practitioners in the country revealed worrisome concerns to include activities of quacks, piracy as well as capacity building among others. These, industry stakeholders insist needs be addressed if the country must optimally harness potential inherent in the sector even as they demonstrate confidence in the nation’s foremost maritime sector regulator, Nigeria Maritime Safety Agency ((NIMASA).
Maritime industry operators, who spoke with THISDAY, agreed that safety of life at sea, piracy and regulatory compliance could make or mar the country’s ability to harness its potential in the industry even as some of them stated that the nation’s flag state has improved in its statutory functions in recent months. The operators include players from different sectors that make up the maritime industry including safety at sea practitioners, freight forwarders, channel dredgers and vessel operators,
According to the immediate past Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Bonny Channel Company (BCC), Joost Van Hecken, “Bonny area is known to be volatile. Piracy has been a big challenge in that area especially on the offshore channel to the LNLG terminal, so for this reasons our vessels are almost a floating fortresses; whatever work we have to do whether dredging or salvage works, we always have security vessels accompany us and our equipment, we also ensure to have adequate security on-board,” he told THISDAY in an interview.
Also speaking with THISDAY, Managing Director of Solas Marine, Samson Okotete, disclosed that quacks undermine safety of life at sea because they either lack certification or do not possess the required capacity to carry out assessment of safety equipment on board vessels. According to him, because they are not certified by any recognised member of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), the apex regulatory body for practitioners of safety of life at sea, they do not adhere to the standards set by the body.
“Activities of quack practitioners are a major concern in the sector. Besides that they are not well trained and certified by any classification member to carry out the services of safety of life at sea, they also use substandard equipment; their practices endanger lives and goods on the high sea.
“They forge certificates showing that they are certified whereas their names are not on the list of companies that are certified to carry out vessels inspection and importation of safety items; but somehow still, they found their way into the sector and they are getting jobs especially from clients who want to cut cost,” Okotete stated.
Speaking further, he said, “Another problem is due to government’s efforts to ensure that only those that are legally permitted to import safety and technical equipment do so. The requirements are rather too strict and it is becoming counter-productive.
Good as the initiative is, it has become a challenge because very few that import safety tools cannot adequately service the industry, there is the fear that this may lead to shortage of top grade tools and equipment; mindful of the fact that top grade equipment is integral to delivering a professional service and if we fail to deliver international standard service the country may suffer loss of confidence in the international maritime industry.”
Pass Mark for NIMASA
While Okotete argued that improved sanity has begun to be noticeable in the sector owing to the resolve by the new management of NIMASA, which is the nation’s flag agency to sanitise the sector and combat piracy, another operator, who preferred not to be named noted that the improvement is not fast-paced enough.
According to him, “Agreed, we are beginning to witness some level of professionalism on the part of NIMASA, I think the pace is slow. On fighting piracy, I commend NIMASA.”
“However, it shouldn’t take forever to completely wipe out quacks who practice safety of life at sea or to compel ship owners to only certified practitioners,” he added.
But Okotete pointed out that, “there has been a remarkable improvement in the activities of NIMASA in recent time.” “What you have before is way below what can be described as professional regulatory services. They have been more professional in the discharge of their duties; they go on board every vessel and tanker for inspection, unlike before.”