By Chinweizu Chidi Amuta
Nigeria launched the National Wreck Removal exercise on September 24 in Lagos. The exercise is being carried out by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Transportation.
NIMASA has the statutory responsibility for ensuring safe and secure navigation in Nigerian waters. With regard to wreckage obstruction, NIMASA’s mandate covers wrecks outside the access channels. This includes the area from the baselines to the territorial waters, contiguous zone, and the exclusive economic zones.
Though, the country was the eighth to ratify the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks (Nairobi Convention), which entered into force on April 14, 2015, the convention has not yet been domesticated in Nigeria. But the launch of the National Wreck Removal exercise has brought the issues in the convention into focus.
The Nairobi Convention provides a framework for wreck removal. Three central questions arise when dealing with shipwrecks: Who is responsible? What measures can and are to be taken based on such a responsibility? Lastly, how can the responsibility be enforced?
The convention addresses these questions. In the case of responsibility for abandoned/derelict vessels, the registered owner of a ship bears strict liability according to the convention, but can be exonerated by certain limited defenses.
On the second question regarding measures that can be taken, the convention clearly identifies locating, marking, and, subsequently, removal of the wreck from the waterways, while the onus to remove the wreck is on the registered owner. But there are also options available to the state affected by the wreck should the registered owner not cooperate or become impossible to reach.
Critically, the Nairobi Convention also includes an optional clause enabling State Parties to apply certain provisions to their territory, including their territorial sea.
Finally, the convention strives to ensure enforceability by compulsory insurance for ships, wherever registered, with a gross tonnage of 300 tons and above calling any port or offshore facility in a State Party. The convention also enables an Affected State to make claims from the insurer directly.
NIMASA WRECK REMOVAL INITIATIVE
The clause that provides for states affected by wrecks to take necessary measures is where the government agency responsible for ensuring safe and secure waterways, NIMASA, has stepped in.
In order to achieve effective implementation and enforcement of provisions of Nairobi Wreck Removal Convention, the Agency divided its wreck removal programme into three stages, namely, Pre-wreck Removal, Wreck Removal, and Post-Wreck Removal operations.
As required by the convention, the Agency also enforces compulsory insurance or financial security to cover liability for wreck removal on ships of 300GT and above, and issues Civil Liability Certificates on Wreck Removal
It has been estimated that Nigeria, as a maritime country, would rake in about N30 billion from over 200,000 tonnes of metal wastes in its waterways, as NIMASA commenced wreck removal in the country’s waters.
The Pre-Wreck stage of the operation involved the identification of what the Agency described as critical wrecks on the country’s waterways i.e. the abandoned vessels/wrecks that pose an imminent threat to safe navigation in the territorial waters.
On September 24, the Honorable Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Chubuike Amaechi, together with the NIMASA Director General, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, and Acting Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Mr. Mohammed Koko, flagged off the Wreck Removal phase of the operation in Lagos at the National Wreck Removal exercise.
MEN AT THE HELM
It is important to note that the push to prioritise the wreck removal exercise was led by the Honorable Minister of Transport and the NIMASA DG, in particular, which culminated in the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approval being granted for the commencement of the operation.
During the flag-off, the Minister commended Jamoh for coming up with the wreck removal idea.
“This creative venture of clearing our waters of wrecks and derelicts, apart from guaranteeing better safety of navigation, opens up the prospects of many new investments in the maritime industry,” Amaechi said.
He added, “it would tremendously help the Federal Government’s economic diversification drive and enhance Nigeria’s standing within the global maritime community.”
Speaking also at the event, Dr. Jamoh stated, “These wrecks inhibit the operation of shipping companies, which constantly strive to increase efficiency in order to remain in business.
“As a result, most of the shipping companies usually avoid operating or investing in areas where navigational hazards are identified due to high insurance premium charges.”
He said with the elimination or reduction of the costs associated with insurance, survey and charting of wrecks, the cost of shipping would, drop to the benefit of mariners and other stakeholders in the maritime industry.
The benefits that would accrue to Nigeria from wreck removal and recycling are enormous. It will improve safety along the country’s navigational corridors within the internal waterways and territorial waters outside its shores. This would impact positively other businesses that are carried out daily in the waterways, like fishing and passenger transportation. It will also lead to a drastic reduction, if not total elimination, of marine accidents that are linked to wrecks.
A WRECK-FREE FUTURE
Nigeria stands to gain several advantages from the national wreck removal exercise. The ultimate goal is to rid the country’s waterways of these derelicts. But the advantages cover the entire economic gamut.
The increased safety that would result from wrecks removal and recycling will be in addition to the noticeably low level of marine accidents that are currently being experienced, which has come about as a result of the safety awareness campaign mounted by NIMASA.
The wrecks removal and recycling initiative is going to create an entirely new industry that would generate employment, especially in the area of skilled labour, and increase the level of Nigeria’s technical know-how in the industry. This would, in turn, add value through revenue generation to the government. The gains that would be derived from the initiative will guarantee environmental sustainability for the continuous development of maritime businesses.
· Amuta is a Public Relations Officer at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).