Despite the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act 2003, which seeks to protect Nigerian seafarers and the shipping industry, foreign seafarers are still being smuggled from neighbouring Togo and Benin Republic to board vessels on the nation's waters in contravention of the law.
The Cabotage law aims, primarily, "to reserve the commercial transportation of goods and services within Nigerian coastal and inland waters to vessels flying the Nigerian flag, owned and crewed by Nigerian citizens, and built in Nigeria."
Investigation by Vanguard Maritime Report revealed that foreign seafarers are flown to Benin Republic and Togo from where they are picked up mid-sea on the territorial waters of these countries and ferried to board vessels in Nigeria.
A Nigerian seafarer source told Vanguard Maritime Report that while the incoming seafarers are brought in through the sea, those to be relieved off duty go through the airport since they do not require visa to get out of the country.
The source explained that all that is required of the ship going to pick up the incoming seafarers is to pay the relevant charges to the countries of origin.
Another source told Vanguard Maritime Report that the illegal operation was possible because most of the vessels operating under the Cabotage area in the country are foreign owned with Nigerians as fronts to enable them operate freely.
The source said that Coronavirus pandemic would have been a great opportunity to get back seafaring jobs from foreigners, but noted that corruption robbed the nation of that opportunity.
The source explained, "What they do, because foreigners cannot come into Nigeria without visa, they bring these foreign seafarers through Lome, Togo.
"They stay in the hotel in Lome for as long as possible until they are needed, then transport them to a ship which conveys them to Nigerian waters to take over from the outgoing crew.
"The outgoing crew are then transported to land from where they leave Nigeria by air since visa is not required. They come through the back door to take our jobs.
"The people that are controlling the ships are the ones controlling the economy of the country; tell me where we stand. The government will come out and shout no jobs, no jobs, yet foreigners are coming through the back door to take the jobs.
"The source further said government agencies regulating the industry know what is going on but choose to look the other way," the source noted.
Speaking with Vanguard Maritime Report recently, former Chairman of Indigenous Shipowners Association of Nigeria, ISAN, and Chief Executive Officer of Molap Shipping, Isaac Jolapamo, confirmed that most of the vessels operating under the Cabotage regime in Nigeria are owned by foreigners and that some of them earn as much as USD3,400 dollars daily even though they do not know where Nigeria is.
Efforts to speak with the Public Relations Officer of the Lagos state Ports and Marine Command of the Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, Augustus Maisor, failed as he did not pick his calls nor responded to a text message sent to him.
Recall that the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, recently threatened to sanction any International Oil Company, IOC, engaging the services of unregistered vessels for Cabotage operation in the country.
A source said the move by NIMASA was as a result of several complains by stakeholders about the domination of the nation's shipping environment by foreigners.
The apex maritime regulatory agency also issued a three-month ultimatum to companies engaged in Cabotage trade in Nigeria to register all vessels used in coastal and inland waters trade.
In addition to registration in the applicable Special Register for Cabotage Vessels and Ship Owning companies, and obtaining the Certificate of Cabotage Registration/License, operators with expired registration certificates are to ensure the renewal of their Cabotage Operational Certificate/License for all Cabotage vessels within three months.
A statement by Head, Corporate Communications of NIMASA, Phillip Kyanet, noted that at the expiration of the three months, NIMASA would notify relevant government authorities and International Oil Companies (IOCs) to bar vessels without valid Cabotage certificates.
The Source however explained that there has not been any significant change two months after the directive by NIMASA.
Vanguard News Nigeria