Stakeholders in the maritime industry have drummed support for the continuous dredging and maintenance of the channels leading to Nigerian ports.
The stakeholders, Mr. Okonkwo Adiele and Chief Andrew Ogunleye argued that a mechanism needed to be put in place to ensure that there was no hitch in the navigation of vessels into the nationâ€™s seaports.
The call is coming on the heels of the recognition of Nigeria as a maritime nation. Besides the fact that she is geographically endowed with 852 km of the Atlantic coastline along with 10,000 km of inland waterways about 30 per cent of which are seasonally navigable for passengers and freight transportation, Nigeria is recognised by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) as a port state and a flag administration represented by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
The experts who spoke to THISDAY at the weekend said NIMASA maintained a ship registry which registers and licenses vessels that fly the Nigerian flag.
They pointed out that Nigeriaâ€™s maritime assets comprise hydrocarbon fossil fuel and gas deposits in her exclusive economic zones which she explores and exploits to drive her economy for the past six decades aside the oil and gas installations and export terminals owned by government, indigenous and international oil companies whose values are worth billions of US dollars. Seaports with its terminal infrastructure and equipment also add a large chunk to Nigeriaâ€™s maritime asset base.
According to them, these assets, natural and man-made, provide the catalyst for shipping in Nigeria, even as they pointed out that the direct influence on shipping was rarely noticeable or acknowledged by the citizenry. For instance, oil and gas exports cannot take place without the presence of dedicated export terminals as obtainable in Escravos, Qua Iboe, Brass and Bonny.
They explained that it was from these terminals that very large crude carriers (VLCCs) and the ultra large crude carriers (ULCCs) load our crude oil and gas for delivery to overseas markets.
Continuing, Adiele said: â€œMaintenance dredging has to be constantly carried out on the terminals to keep these tankers and gas carriers afloat without incident. To ensure continuous maintenance dredging, the NPA in partnership with the private sector established the Lagos Channel Management Company (LCM) and the Bonny Channel Company (BCC).
The BCC was established to create and maintain a safe navigational passage for all marine users in and out the Eastern Ports comprising Bonny Island, Onne, Okrika, and Port-Harcourt while the LCM is saddled with the responsibility of dredging and maintenance of Lagos channels.
â€œDrawing from this is the direct relationship which oil and gas demand and supply have on the shipping market. Since the demand for ships is a derived demand, oil or gas boom triggers demand for more ships to transport the products to the international market. The reverse is the case when there is a slump in global oil and gas demand. Nigeria as an oil producing nation has witnessed many cycles of oil boom and bust as well as shipping market highs and lows notably from the 1970s which sent shock waves to her economy.â€
On his part, Ogunleye stated that it remained indelible in Nigeriaâ€™s shipping history how foreign ship owners made record profits in demurrage charges from Nigerian government during the 1970sâ€™ port congestion that trailed massive importation of post-civil war reconstruction materials.
His words: â€œThe inadequacy of Apapa port to handle the chartered ships resulted in many of them being stemmed at the Lagos anchorage for months. Incidentally, the congestion coincided with Nigeriaâ€™s oil boom which made the millions of dollars paid in demurrage relatively easy for the government to offset. It is however a sad reflection that the bulk of these monies went to foreigners because Nigeriaâ€™s indigenous shipping tonnage was largely undeveloped but for her national carrier, the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL).
â€œAs a result, the NNSL employed hundreds of Nigerian seafarers contributing to Nigeria gross domestic product (GDP). However, NNSL subsequently suffered decline in its fortunes and had to be wound up in the 1990s after a number of attempts failed at reviving it. However, the congestion led to the building of Tin Can Island Port Complex (TCIP), Apapa, Lagos which was commissioned on 14th October, 1977. The TCIP has maintained a consistent second place next to Apapa Port in the volume of goods and the gross registered tonnage of vessels it handles annually, thus making significant and consistent year-on-year contributions to the economyâ€.
The stakeholders expressed regret that despite its importance, the contribution of shipping to Nigeriaâ€™s GDP had always been a matter of conjecture rather than fact.
They pointed out that in the publications of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), shipping is categorised under â€œother servicesâ€ and not as a standalone item.
â€œWhilst one may be tempted to frown at this practice by the NBS, it is most obvious that the ships that trade the goods into and out of Nigeria, and the freight the ships earn, do not add to the GDP because their revenues all go to the foreigners who own them. Nigerians at best earn commissions on shipping support services like marine insurance and law, cargo survey, freight forwarding, transportation and warehousing, some of which have their individual headings in the NBSâ€™ GDP computation. Given the volume of oil and gas cargo that Nigeria exports daily, coupled with the regular importation of refined petroleum products chief of which are premium motor spirit (PMS) and automated gas oil (AGO), besides the volume of non-oil import and export that pass through our seaports, the loss of capital contribution to the economy from the ships that move these cargoes is better imagined than calculated. With regards to domestic shipping, ownership of tankers and offshore supply vessels (OSVs) is still tilted in favour of foreigners despite implementations of the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act 2003 and the Local Content Act of 2010 both of which confer on Nigerian citizens the right to building, ownership, management and crewing of vessels that operate within Nigerian territorial watersâ€, they said.