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Nigerian vessels missed out in global trade for 10 years

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There have been concerns among major maritime operators that no Nigerian- flagged vessel participated in the global merchandise trade in the last 10 years.

The stakeholders, who expressed disappointment about the situation during a virtual maritime symposium in honour of an industry chieftain, Greg Ogbeifun’s 70 birthday, said the government needed to give priority to maritime sector development in its development strategy.

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Chairman, Starz Investment Limited, Greg Ogbeifun, said Nigeria used to be a global player in the shipping industry through the then Federal Government-owned Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) and some private lines, which allowed the country to tap into various opportunities created by UNCTAD years back. He regretted that due to a multiplicity of factors, the enviable national capacity was lost.

He said Nigeria now solely depends on foreign-owned vessels to carry its imports and exports, both wet and dry, adding that the economic loss to the country by this situation is tremendous.

The national problem, he said, could be solved through interaction with all stakeholders, including governments at all levels, the private sector and maritime stakeholders.

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He, therefore, urged the stakeholders to find a way to know why Nigeria has remained in the doldrums in the comity of nations participating in maritime trade. He further urged them not to relent in the effort to ensure that before this decade ends, one Nigerian flag is flown on a ship to participate in the global import and export trade.

He announced that Starz Marine and Engineering recently signed a contract with an international consortium (in Canada and Holland) to commence the expansion of its shipyard. He said the shipyard, with the capacity to turn vessels of 7,500 tonnages and above, would give hope to the nation’s maritime sector. With the length of 120 meters, he said the shipyard had not only the capacity to repair but also build ships in the country.

Managing Partner, Nfom Usoro & Co. and Immediate past Secretary-General of the Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control for West and Central African Region, Mrs. Nfon Usoro, there is a huge market, which is open for Nigeria to participate in the global shipping terrain.

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She said in 2019, Nigeria’s maritime transportation was N33.7 billion, whereas Nigerian flagged vessels carried zero per cent of the nation’s merchandise in the last 10 years.

Usoro, who is also a member of the Presidential National Fleet Committee, said the national fleet would boost revenue, provide jobs for the teeming population and lift the nation’s foreign reserve, which would ultimately buoy economic development.

She said the nation should have plans to ensure that a Nigerian flagship carries a certain percentage of Nigerian, African and global merchandise trade in the next 10 years.

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She lamented that marine transportation was left out of the Vision 2020, which was a grave error, hence no fiscal or tax incentive was available for maritime development. She, therefore, called for the inclusion of maritime development programmes in the planned Vision 2050.

Chairperson, Sealink Promotional Shipping Company, Mrs. Dabney Shall- Holma, said national fleet development must be promoted, adding that cargoes, vessel turnaround time are also very critical because the base of any economy is trading, and the base of trade is production.

“That is the only way we can open up our economy to sincere and consistent development,” she said.

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Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers Council, Hassan Bello, said the benefit of the national fleet is more than national pride. “We must be a producing nation, we cannot continue to be a consuming nation. The national fleet must be private-sector driven”, he stated.

Bello, who is also the Chairman of the Nigerian Fleet Implementation Committee, said the committee was working to ensure that the fleet agenda is sustainable.

On the FOB contract, he said Nigeria is the only country in the world that is still adopting FOB, emphasizing that Nigerians should be given an opportunity in crude lifting. He noted that in 2015 alone, Nigeria paid N9.1 billion to shipping lines.

Bello said developing local capacity could only be achieved through deliberate policies of the government, adding that the banks and insurance industries should be ready to support.

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President, Nigeria Ship-Owner’s Association (NISA), Alhaji Aminu Umar, said the country was missing a lot in human capital development, which has had negative effects on the economy. He said Nigeria should take a bold step to train its young minds to take jobs in seafaring.

He stressed the need to strengthen the security on Nigerian water-ways, as pirates appear to have taken over the waterways. Umar also enjoined more ship-owning companies to take advantage of the capital market in raising funds.

Chairperson, Ship Owners Forum, Mrs. Margaret Orakwusi, lamented that the shipping sector is dominated by foreign operators. She stressed the need for the nation to build local capacity and provide for adequate funding to support the sector.

Orakwusi said the delay in disbursement of Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) is hitting hard on the industry, charging NIMASA to fast-track the process.

President, Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association, (Wista Nigeria), Mrs. Eunice Ezeoke, said: “Nigeria is now ranked 35th in the ship owning nations. We have to grow it; we want to leverage on this recognition by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and make sure we don’t lose it anymore. There is a need for Nigeria to have a base to start acquiring vessels. The repairs will no longer go to Ghana; Ogbeifun has built a shipyard that can even build a ship.”

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