Abuja — The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), has decried the manpower gap in the nation's maritime sector, disclosing that no fewer than 50,000 seafarers are needed for the shipping industry to realise its full potential and stimulate the desired economic growth in Nigeria.
But the manpower requirement appears to be only a tip of the iceberg among the challenges in the sector as $40 million accruing to the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) has remained unaccessible to indigenous businessmen desirous of establishing shipping lines.
Director General of NIMASA, Mr Temisan Omatseye said the manpower gap has led to a situation where the shipping industry in Nigeria has become dominated by foreigners while the few indigenous shipping firms have witnessed declining fortunes. Omatseye spoke at the weekend while making a presentation at a workshop organised for parliamentary correspondents by the House of Representatives Committee on Marine Transport.
He attributed the dearth of manpower in the sector to a number of factors including the absence of a national shipping line; the seeming lack of interest among young Nigerians to pursue careers in the sector and the apparent disconnect between government policy framework, the institution designed for policy implementation and the maritime industry.
According to the NIMASA boss, Nigeria lost the "perfect laboratory" platform for breeding young sailors since the early 1990s when the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) collapsed and its fleet completely depleted. Omatseye said that though the Nigerian Maritime Academy (NMA), Oron has been churning out professional seamen over the years, the institution has limited capacity as it can produce only about 200 seamen each year.
Beyond this limitation, he said, graduates of the Nigeria Maritime Academy lack access to ocean going vessels which they would have used to earn the necessary man hours required for their professional qualification. Omatseye however expressed hope that with the ongoing collaboration between the Academy and the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) project the industry will gradually surmount the problem.
On the position of NIMASA on the Maritime Security Agency Bill currently before the National Assembly, Omatseye said the proposed agency was not necessary as its establishment will amount to a duplication of the functions of NIMASA. He said that under the NIMASA Act of 2007, the agency is required to among other things provide search and rescue services; carry out air and coastal surveillance as well as provide directions and ensure compliance with vessel security measures. He also said that under the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), NIMASA remained the authorised institution in Nigeria charged with the task of implementing the ISPS Code, adding that NIMASA has been performing these security responsibilities in collaboration with the Nigeria Navy.
Meanwhile, experts in the maritime industry have demanded a definite framework for the disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) to enable Nigerian businessmen utilise the fund in the interest of the sector and the economy at large. The fund was established by the Cabotage Act of 2003 to ensure that Nigerians had the financial muscle to participate actively in the maritime industry.
Among those rooting for the framework to access the fund are maritime lawyer, Mr Emeka Akabogu and maritime administrator, Engineer Olu Akinsoji. In separate presentations at the media workshop, the duo said Nigerians were yet to take full advantage of the maritime endowments available along the country's more than 850 kilometre coastline.
Under the Cabotage Act, Nigerians were expected to be more involved in terms of ship ownership, crewing of the ships, building of ships as well as registration of ships. The experts also said Nigerian ship owners have not taken advantage of the National Carrier status enshrined in the NIMASA Act and urged the indigenous shipping firms to increase the quality of their participation in the sector in order to benefit maximally from these incentives.