Local ship owners kick as foreign vessels continue operations in cabotage trade
Indigenous ship owners have decried the continuous award of contracts to foreign vessel owners for coastal shipping of petroleum products in clear contravention of the Cabotage and Local Content Act.
Findings revealed that one year after the attention of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) was drawn to the breach of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development (NOGICD) and Cabotage Act in the award of contracts in the coastal shipping of petroleum products, foreign operators continue to practice Cabotage trade on the nation’s territorial waters, a trade exclusively for indigenous operators.
Worried by this development, the Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN) has sent a protest letter to the Director-General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh and copied the Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mallam Mele Kyari and the Executive Secretary of Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), Engr. Simbi Wabote.
In a protest letter dated March 22, 2022, the indigenous shipowners accused NIMASA of still granting waivers to foreign-flagged vessels operated by Messrs Unibros/Orion Marine to participate in the domestic shipping of petroleum products that is solely reserved for Nigerians.
According to the letter signed by the SOAN President, Mkgeorge Onyung, the shipowners called on NIMASA to exercise her mandate to stop any illegality and ensure the vessel owners pay relevant Customs import duties on the vessels, with evidence provided before adopting the Nigerian flag just like the Nigerian- owned and flagged vessels operated by Nigerians.
While commending NIMASA, NNPC and NCDMB for the multiple levels of dialogue on the issue, SOAN noted that it will amount to an act of economic sabotage if foreign-flagged vessels are allowed to operate in the nation’s waters in disregard of extant laws and regulations.
The letter titled ‘Re: Registration of foreign-flagged vessels into the Cabotage regime for coastal shipping of petroleum products, a copy of which was made available to The Guardian reads in part: “The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has broken an over 40-year record by giving Nigerian shipping companies the commercial opportunity to supply coastal vessels to NNPC/Marine Logistics for shipping of petroleum products with Nigerian Flagged coastal tankers.
“Your agency’s efforts and the proactive steps taken by the Executive Secretary, NCDMB and House of Assembly is highly commendable and most appreciated.
“However, it is of grave concern to this laudable initiative that foreign-flagged vessels operated by Messrs Unibros/Orion Marine are issued waivers from your good office to partake in the domestic shipping of petroleum products in contravention of our Cabotage and Local Content legislations.
“Orion Marine is just an agency and not the owner of vessels presented to you. During the Legislative public hearings, vide a letter from the Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), UNIBROS is not a Nigerian registered taxpayer but has operated in Nigeria illegally for over ten years.”
“We bring this to your notice to exercise your mandate to stop any illegality and ensure they pay relevant customs import duties on these vessels, with evidence provided before adopting the Nigerian flag, just like the Nigerian-owned and flagged vessels operated by Nigerians. Arrest these vessels immediately or cause them to pay the prescribed federal government taxes they have been illegally avoiding. Charge them the requisite penalties in line with section 35 for offences against the Cabotage Act.”