Lagos — The maritime sector is at a crossroads of opportunities and threats. There are opportunities in the rapidly growing economy in the oil, gas, bulk carriers and seaborne trade.
Conversely, there are threats in terms of policy implementation problems, manpower development problems, infrastructure decay and influx of foreign seafarers.
In spite the opportunities offered by the vast coastline and enormous inland waterways, the maritime sector has not taken full advantage of these, towards training and creation of jobs. Only halfhearted attempts have been made in that direction.
For Nigeria to effectively run its flag state vessels, including other marine-related activities, calls for adequate manpower supply backed by decades of development strategies. Nigeria has difficulties in meeting its obligations due to lack of political will and absence of long-term manpower development scheme.
Considering the level of activities in the offshore oil and gas sector and other coastal activities, there are abundant opportunities for shipboard personnel.
Available statistics indicate that in the domestic market alone, an estimated 50,000 jobs exist for seafarers.
Conversely, Nigeria has less than 3,000 seafarers and about 2,000 cabotage vessels. This is aside the vast number of foreign vessels operating in the Nigerian coastal trade, reserved exclusively for Nigerians under the cabotage law.
With an estimated 2,000 cabotage vessels, it means that if for instance, four crew is required per vessel, there will be a crewing requirement of 8,000 seafarers. This will leave a shortfall of 5,000 seafarers.
Authoritative sources say that foreigners in Nigerian waters earn over $500 million annually. But if Nigeria could develop its own pool of seafarers, all of these funds could be utilised within the domestic economy.
Capacity building in the maritime sector is almost non-existent in spite of the huge sums of money voted for that purpose annually. The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), which is the agency responsible for capacity building, has not been able to give a good account of itself in that regard.
But the Philippines supplies 30 percent of the world seafarers by exporting over 300,000 seafarers to the international shipping labour market and in return an estimated $5.0 billion is repatriated annually to the Philippines under appropriate legislation.
The multiplier effect this level of repatriated income would have on the Philippine's economy could better be imagined.
Speaking on the issue of dearth of seafarers, the immediate past president of National Association of Master Mariners (NAMM), Adewale Ishola, said, "It is very sad but what can one do?"
According to him, one clear implication of the dearth of core maritime professionals is that people are not being groomed properly. "We are not imparting the right knowledge in the upcoming generation, the country is short of master mariners. There are less than 200 master mariners in the whole country including foreigners amongst us and they are even becoming aged."
Former National President, National Association of Master Mariners (NAMM), Oyeniyi Adeyemo, explained that successive regimes in the then National Maritime Administration (NMA), which metamorphosed into NAMASA and now NIMASA, did not have the proactive position in regard to training.
He said that the new management of NIMSA has started but noted that it will take a minimum of five years before the first set of trainees will pick up leadership roles in the maritime industry.
"So we should be more mindful of the future and we must have the plan of which Nigerians will be able to access," he said.
Apparently realising its failure in developing maritime manpower over the years, partly resulting in foreigners taking over jobs, ordinarily meant for Nigerian citizens, NIMASA initiated the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP).
The agency seeks to use it as a to address the short to medium term manpower requirements of the maritime sector with a view to creating a large pool of Nigerian Seafarers by 2014 to meet local demand and also contribute to the global manpower need of international shipping.
Career opportunities offer by the programme include: Deck officers, comprising master mariner (ship captain), chief mate and officer on watch (OOW).
In engineering, it comprises chief engineer, second engineer, officer on watch (OOW).
There is also the rating career prospects, which encompasses, boatswain, motormen, nautical caterers, able seamen, welder, greaser.
Other career opportunities are: naval architecture/ship Building comprising; Naval Architect, Ship Building Technologist.
Another opportunity is in the area of marine surveyors, which comprise nautical, engineering and naval architects.
The programme has been structured into the following schemes: graduate scheme, bridging programme, technicians scheme and vocational/ratings scheme.
NIMASA intends to train 5,000 Nigerians annually from the six geo-political zones in the country.
As laudable as this programme appears, it has continued to attract criticisms from different quarters.
A frontline freight forwarder and president of Institute of Transport Administrators (IoTA), Lucky Amiwero, described the NSDP as a waste of funds.
"What is seafarers development programme? Who are you developing? It is just a waste of funds. You have not developed Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron. The training institution is dying, use the money to develop that place," he told Daily Independent.
According to him, "If Oron is having one or two ships attached to it through a bank, even if it is a tanker, you will know that this country, with time, will bounce back. But they are not thinking that way."
He pointed out that NIMASA ought to provide not less than five percent of its revenue for Maritime Academy of Nigeria according to the law, which they are not doing.
In a petition written by some concerned workers of NIMASA, through Seyi Johnson, they said, "we appreciate the importance of the National Seafarers' Development Programme (NSDP) meant to build capacity in the maritime industry, yet that is not enough for Dosunmu to have claimed that the programme staged in six geo-political zones of the country gulped over N200 million.We knew that the involvement of some credible names within and outside the industry who include Prof. Pat Utomi, Capt. Emmanuel Ihenacho, Capt. Omoteso among others, was to attract credibility and justify the profligacy."
"How come Dosunmu does not give account for incomes and expenditures? How much does NIMASA make now, annually?" they queried.
According to the secretary, institute of Marine Engineering and Science Technology (IMAREST) Alex Peters, the collapse of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) is seen as one of the major reasons for the dearth of manpower in the sector.
"NNSL was not a failure as we were made to believe. If not a commercial success at least it trained Nigerian seafarers and most of the Nigerian seafarers are the people we are proud and beautifully call master mariners and marine engineers today which were trained by NNSL," he said.
Factors militating against adequate manpower development include low standard of skilled manpower coupled with limited training institutions, poor training equipment and support services and lack of motivated instructors.
"Due to lack of competent seafarers in quantity and quality, Africa is continuously being denied global participation in international crewing and unable to use the avenue to reduce the teeming number of unemployment especially among the youths", managing director of the Lagos Channel Management (LCM), Danny Fuchs, said, while presenting a paper at the second African Manning and Training Conference at La Palm Beach Royal Hotel in Accra, Ghana Between March 10 and 11.
Fuchs added that the lack of qualified seafarers in all aspect of the industry has put Africa in an economic, security, technological and intellectual disadvantage.
He said, "On regular basis, there are accidents leading to loss of lives, wrecks all over the coastlines, ports and harbours and are due to lack of competent manpower."
What is needed is the political will on the part of government to create the enabling environment for the effective private sector participation in maritime training. A strong training policy helps, but it needs to be backed up by a long-term commitment to the development of the Nigerian seafarer.
With its multiplier effect on the nation's economy, the maritime industry requires a sustained training of capacity required.