By Ganiyu Alayaki
The essence of the Cabotage was to boost the indigenous participation of Nigerians in the shipping industry owing to the prospects and viability evidently being tapped by foreigners as at then. The government thought it wise that it was dangerous for the country to leave key players in the budding maritime sector to foreigners leaching on the industry to dictate the pace.
To ensure ‘Nigerianess’ in the country’s coastal and inland trade, the Cabotage act was promulgated in 2003 for home grown capacity for the sustainable development of the Nigerian maritime industry with four strategic pillars viz: Built in Nigeria, Owned by Nigerians, Registered in Nigeria and Manned by Nigerians.
This was seen as a silent caveat for foreigners to pave way for Nigerians to reap benefits that abound in the sector. To back the implementation of the act, a guideline was set to; facilitate the establishment and development of national capacities to manage, monitor, establish adequate information system, develop expert human resources in Cabotage administration and enforcement as well as promote the efficient operation of the Cabotage regime. As at then Vessels were not being built in the country and the restrictions included “A vessel other than a vessel wholly owned and manned by a Nigerian Citizen, built and registered in Nigeria shall not engage in domestic coastal carriage or cargo and passengers within the coastal, territorial, inland waters, island or any point within the waters of the exclusive economic zone of Nigeria”.
Importantly there was the realisation of the fact that in order not to allow the nascent maritime industry to collapse due to lack of human and technical capacity, the need to create a leeway in the mode of waivers to ease the entry into force of the regime. The act then vested the waivers powers on the Minister of transportation to waive the Cabotage requirements for a duly registered vessel on the requirement for a vessel under this act to be built in Nigeria where he is satisfied that no Nigerian shipping Company has the capacity to construct the particular size of vessel specified in an application. This waiver is seen as understandable owing to the notion that the country had not yet developed a large capacity to build ocean going vessels. However, the conditions of the waivers on building of vessels meant to be supported by the Cabotage Vessel Financing Funds (CVFF) which currently is undergoing the process of disbursement.
There were also other waivers that were seen to drive the ease of implementation of the Act but for the manning aspects which allows the Honourable Minister to grant waivers to a duly registered vessel on the requirement under a Cabotage Act that the vessel is to be wholly manned by Nigerian Citizens where he is certified that there is no qualified Nigerian Officer or crew for the position specified by an application.
The Act subsequently attached exorbitant amounts on the waiver requests to deter prospective applicants viz ship owners, shipping companies, agents from making applications as the Nigerian alternative would be cheaper. Furthermore, applications for highly skilled crew such as captains, chief engineers, Chief Officers, first mate were made less expensive than that of the 2nd engineer, second mate, cooks, among others owing to the common knowledge that the number of Nigerian skilled officers could not adequately cater for the shipping industry needs because of the volume of trade.
Amazingly, because of the viability of our maritime sector, shipping companies preferred to use only foreigners on their vessels even for crew members as less important as cleaners not minding what it would cost them as waivers.
For a country in need of every kind of employment it can offer it citizens because its population! This was seen as unfairness to the Nigerian state because the country needed every available opportunity to provide jobs for the yearning citizens. Consequently, the waiver on manning created a lot of unrest within the maritime sector as Nigerian maritime workers continue to ask for reasons a cook or a cleaner on the vessel would be a phillipino while there were Nigerians willing to take the job (it was their job in any case).
The Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund was seen as a long term solution for the issues that arose from Ownership and building of vessels, Registration of vessel in Nigeria was not too much of a problem for the Nigerian ship Registry while the manning issues continued to rumble. To build capacity for the sector the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), floated the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) to tackle the menace of lack of trained Seafarers in the Nigerian Maritime Domain. This project has been lauded by major stakeholders and it has increased the interest and awareness of the Nigerian youths on the amounts of earnings in foreign exchange they might be missing by not taking advantage of Cabotage.
The NSDP step taken by NIMASA has been yielding fruits as a lot of young Nigerians are being sent to the best maritime institutions across the globe to study various fields in maritime and this laudable programme is now churning out graduates that would fill so many voids in the sector especially in regards to Cabotage. But, there was still a need of political will to tackle the employment of unskilled foreigners on Cabotage vessels while there were Nigerians willing to take the job.
Recently, the Dr. Dakuku Peterside led Management NIMASA issued a notice of the temporary suspension of the issuance of waivers on Manning requirement under the Cabotage act.
The agency said it was no longer going to consider applications for grant of waivers on manning requirements for vessels engaged in Cabotage trade with regards to 2nd Officer, 2nd Engineer , 2nd mate down to able seamen, ratings and stewards. NIMASA further went on to state that applications for grant of waivers to a Cabotage vessel to be wholly manned by Nigerian Citizens in the absence of qualified Nigerian Officers or Crew for the positions of Captains, Chief Engineers, Chief Officers, First mate shall be considered based on Merit. It is evident that the Dakuku led Management’s repositioning drive is in top gear and the recently elected Chairman of AAMA has taken every challenge thrown to him by the Maritime sector on its stride. One wonders what Rivers state would be enjoying now to have him has their number one citizen, well that is a story of another day or story of NIMASA’s benefits.
The meaning of this notice and its implementations is that instead of the Agency to be looking at the millions of dollars it stands to rake in by granting waivers, the growth and the development of the maritime sector is paramount to Dakuku’s heart.
Furthermore, it is imagined that by this policy and notice, the issues of unemployment would be drastically reduced because of the volume of the Cabotage trade. Also Nigerians would have opportunities to earn in dollars as their counterparts all over the world. It takes a lion heart to effect changes and sure Dr. Dakuku Peterside has the lion heart to drive the Nigerian Maritime Sector to enviable heights with his repositioning drive. Surely the Nigerian Maritime sector is sailing safe have hands. Take advantage of Cabotage!
Alayaki is of the Public Relations Unit of NIMASA. He writes from Lagos.