X-raying Deep Blue Project And NIMASA’s other transformative projects
During the launch of the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure also called the Deep Blue Project, in Lagos, on June 10, 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari had declared that with the project, Nigeria had better capability to control its maritime domain. The President said the maritime security project offered a standard for other Gulf of Guinea countries in terms of strategy and collaboration.
Expressing confidence that the project, which provides robust maritime security architecture, would enhance maritime domain awareness capability and improve law enforcement action, Buhari further described it as an important step in the continuing shift in strategic action about regional maritime security.
“It will serve as a benchmark for member states in the Gulf of Guinea and other relevant stakeholders to further develop innovative strategies and align efforts with the subsisting framework to improve maritime security in the region,” the President added.
A year and eight months after the launch of the project, the scorecard of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in the area of the war against piracy has continued to impress key industry observers.
For over a decade, piracy has been like an albatross on the neck of shippers in Nigeria and West Africa. This had given Nigeria and indeed other West African countries a bad image. Beyond that was the cost implication to shippers as they had to pay more in shipping charges to cover the cost of security being claimed by multinational ship owners who hired security onboard vessels to secure shipment to the region. However, the launch of the Deep Blue Project paved the way for the agency to acquire a number of equipment, including two unmanned aircraft systems, nine interceptor patrol boats and 10 armoured vehicles, which have been effectively deployed to curb armed robbery on sea. The effort has no doubt paid off as shippers now pay less even as ship owners are not more disposed to moving consignments to the country.
To consolidate on the achievement, NIMASA had last year hosted the fifth plenary of the Gulf of Guinea Maritime Collaboration Forum for the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (GOG-MCF/SHADE). Speaking at the event, which was held in Abuja from May 10-11, 2022, the Director General of the agency, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, sought for international support for the suppression of maritime insecurity. He had also restated Nigeria’s commitment to fight piracy.
His words: “Nigeria is improving on her capacity to fight maritime crime by procuring state of the art technology, upgrading human capacity for effective service delivery and deployment of the assets for round the clock patrol, interdiction and reconnaissance with the support of Nigerian Navy and other security agencies we signed MoU.
“Indeed we are further encouraged by President Muhammadu Buhari’s support all the time to ensure adequate security of crew members, vessels and cargoes within and around our waters.
“These newly procured assets would assist us in building on the gains already recorded in the fight against piracy, sea robbery, oil theft, kidnapping, illegal fishing activities and others.”
Since 2021, NIMASA has also been championing the Blue Economy Project. The agency had visited littoral states as part of its efforts in pursuing the blue economy strategy expected to replace the current oil economy in about 10 years.
During a visit to Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, Jamoh had urged littoral states to collaborate with the agency by setting up a committee to work with it to identify their areas of comparative advantage in harnessing their vast ocean resources.
“The agency commenced the issue of Blue Economy Project to ensure that we have something that we will fall back on. Let us give ourselves at least within the next 10 years, so we can develop our ocean resources,” he said.
NIMASA has also been introducing many initiatives to improve the capacity of staff. The agency has trained so many cadets overseas, notwithstanding myriads of challenges. Early in the year, the agency renewed its Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the World Maritime University (WMU), Malmo, Sweden, in a bid to enhance capacity building in the maritime sector.
Jamoh had explained during the signing of the MoU that “the collaboration with the WMU by NIMASA is to advance maritime interest while addressing the changing needs of the maritime industry based on sustainable capacity development as education, training and capacity building play a major role in developing shipping in any nation.”
He added that “graduates from the WMU who are in the employ of the agency will serve as researchers and resource persons, sharing knowledge and hopefully develop a research based sustainable framework to provide solutions to issues of insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea.”
Under the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP), records show that from inception to 2020, the programme has enrolled 2,041 students.
According to Jamoh, “892 are now licensed deck and engine officers including naval architects; the rest are in their final stage of the programme. About 486 of the graduates are now gainfully employed and sailing in both coastal and ocean-going vessels.”
Industry stakeholders are also waiting to see if NIMASA would fulfill its promise to start disbursing the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) established under the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act, 2003. According Section 3:1 of the Act, “The Fund shall be utilised by the Agency to offer financial assistance, create access to funding by financial institutions with the sole aim of increasing indigenous ship acquisition capacity. Disbursement of the Fund shall be subject to the approval of the Minister of Transportation upon recommendation by NIMASA.”
Recently, Jamoh met with five banks including Union Bank, Jaiz Bank, Zenith Bank, Polaris Bank and United Bank of Africa (UBA) as part of efforts to disburse the CVFF.
The apex maritime agency had given the banks 72 hours recently to provide procedures to be used in disbursing the fund.
The agency cautioned against unnecessary collaterals that would be difficult for the shipping companies to provide.
The NIMASA DG said the government wants to avoid the mistake of the past in which some of those who benefitted from the Ship Acquisition Fund and Ship Building Fund (SASBF) could not repay the loans.
He made it clear that the Federal Government was desirous to disburse the fund as soon as possible.
He disclosed that the 50 per cent counterpart funding was in dollars when the banks requested that the ship owners should provide 50 per cent counterpart funding.
“We don’t want a situation where the banks will be asking for the father and mother of the ship owners and other collateral that may make the prospective beneficiaries of the funds get scared,” he said.
Jamoh, however, explained that what the agency expects the banks to come up with as the harmonised procedure for the disbursement includes the interest rate, tenor, collateral and other necessary requirements.
He added that the interest rate to be charged should be in line with international best practices since the CVFF would be given to the banks in foreign exchange.
How NIMASA would navigate the next election of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)
Category C this year is also of keen interest to industry watchers. COVID-19, among other unforeseen circumstances, made it impossible for Nigeria to take part in the election in 2020. It was the fourth time Nigeria lost the chance. The last election was held in December 2021.
Former Minister of State for Transportation, Gbemi Saraki, had out of frustration said in June last year that Nigeria would have to suspend further participation until she puts her house in order. In other words, issues of infrastructure bedeviling the sector will have to be addressed before taking another shot on the IMO Category C election.
Saraki had noted the successes in the war against piracy but stressed that it must be sustained. During the recent visit of the IMO Secretary General, Kitack Lim, to the country, he was shown round Nigeria’s facilities in what was an indication that Nigeria may indeed try another shot. Good enough, Lim commended Nigeria on successes recorded against piracy on her territorial waters and Gulf of Guinea (GoG) so far.
Among the issues that featured prominently during the Nigeria International Maritime Summit (NIMS) 2022 that would have positive impact or impress the international community about Nigeria’s maritime efforts and also help the country’s quest for the IMO Category C seat is the position of stakeholders on decarbonisation because of its effect on shipping. Lim was part of the stakeholders’ discussion on this subject.
At the event, the Chairperson of the Nigerian Shipowners Forum, Mrs. Margaret Orakwusi, said Africa should be allowed to voice the challenges being faced and indeed seek solutions.
Speaking on the theme, ‘Carbonisation and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Shipping – Policy and Operational Perspectives from West and Central Africa’, Orakwusi listed the challenges of some Nigerian ship owners, particularly those who use smaller vessels.
She, however, added that many who were operating bigger vessels were ready for the new international policy.
She said: “We have always wanted to be at the discussion table to be able to express what we are going through as operators and be part of the solution.
“Now, AGO (diesel) which will power the vessels in the country, is highly regulated and developed according to NNPC specification; it is a maximum of 0.5 per cent of sulphur that is stipulated and applied.
“But when you talk of the ship operating in Nigeria, we deal more with the small crafts. Our source of AGO is very well known and controlled. Our activities are also controlled.
“I advocate that a monitoring group be established to be able to document the quality of AGO that the ocean-going vessels use when they call at our ports. We own smaller crafts and our activities are highly-regulated, but the big vessels come because we are highly import-dependent and do exports too, which are transported by the big vessels.”
Expectations are high that NIMASA will follow up on the discussions at that meeting to brighten Nigeria’s chances at the election.