“Navy has no business in commercial shipping”
Captain Taiwo Akinpelumi is the Lagos Coordinator, Nigerian Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA). In this interview with Anozie Egole, he frowned at moves by NIMASA and the BPE to refloat the Nigerian Unity Line. He also spoke issues challenging the Nigerian maritime industry while proffering the way forward.
“NSDP is like placing the cart before the horse”
What do you have to say about the maritime industry forecast that the NIMASA DG recently announced?
As far as I am concerned, it is a step in the right direction because the forecast is about where we are supposed to be; it is a projection that where we are supposed to be; we have to take stock of where we were in the past, where we are at the present and where we are to be in the future. So there is nothing wrong with that. The forecast is just to guide us to ensure that we are glue to the path of progress but unfortunately we should do more than all these theoretical propositions. I expect the administration to take cogent steps, policy direction that will actually develop our shipping. Because actually the way to go is to first develop our shipping and every other thing will follow suit. Because if shipping is not developed, what will NIMASA be regulating. They are to regulate shipping and maritime activities.
For the past two years, NIMASA has focused more on training of seafarers, what is your appraisal on that?
I have always made my position known that training of seafarers is like placing the cart before the horse. So far, according to the information available to us, about 2,500 cadets were sent to various maritime institutions abroad for training, but so far only 150 have been able to secure not even jobs, but sea time. What it means is that if we are training and there is not where to send all these cadets for sea time, that means we are not going the right direction. And this is why my candid advice from inception has been -let us first and foremost, develop our indigenous shipping. If we have ships and if the ships are working and the shipping companies are getting jobs and doing well, the administration can now mandate them to train our cadets yearly depending on the size of the fleet. By so doing any cadet sent to nautical school knows that coming back there be will be ships to acquire sea time and by extension after sea time and the required training as soon as the seafarer is certified, there will be jobs to fall back on.
As a seasoned seafarer, what would you say have been the challenges?
The challenges have been so enormous, you see I belong to a group where you have so many seafarers without jobs and it has been like that for many years because, where are the ships? Seafarers don’t normally have career growth prospects again because you don’t expect foreign vessels to come and train your seafarers. Foreign ship owners will not come and train your seafarers here in Nigeria. And this is supposed to be part of our national assets, if we have ships and the human capacity of course the better for us, but unfortunately none of these are happening now.
Recently, NIMASA in partnership with BPE unfolded plans to float a national shipping lines, what do you have to say about that?
That is almost very unfortunate, let’s look at the mandate of NIMASA in their Act. They are supposed to promote, the development of indigenous and international shipping, they are not supposed to compete with stakeholders; they are not supposed to go into business. So if you are saying that you want to float a national shipping line, what you are saying is that you are deciding for the stakeholders. National career is enshrined in the NIMASA Act, if you meet the national career requirement, you will be granted a national career status as a stakeholder. So it is not NIMASA’s call to start saying they want to float a national career. Mind you we have realised in this country that unfortunately our leaders always listen to the wrong people for advice. Because I am sure that people that are advising them on this are people that all their lives have depended on working in public service. And what they do is that they will run the agency or whatever that is giving to them; they will run it aground and still look elsewhere. Because most of these people don’t know how to do business they should leave business for ship owners and stakeholders.
They are not entrepreneurs; they do not appreciate the dynamics of shipping business. So what we are saying is that there are lots of challenging that are more cogent than going the way of national career. I agree with the DG of NIMASA in the areas of the ships being critical, we need the tonnage; it is very critical to any nation, but the fact remains, that you should empower your stakeholders individually or collectively so that they can acquire these vessels. There is a way you will streamline it these days, because what was applicable 20 years ago will not be applicable today.
Reactions have been trailing the recent decision by the House of Reps Committee of maritime education, safety and administration to establish a maritime bank with the CVFF, what do you have to say about that?
I cannot agree less, I support that instead of the CVFF lying down there and not being disbursed there is nothing wrong floating a maritime bank with the money. Maybe if the bank is floated, the government might deem it necessary to come up with intervention fund to actually boost the capital base of the banks. Why I am in support is that I have always been against the situation whereby these monies are giving to commercial banks to disburse. Commercial banks are business-inclined in nature; don’t forget that the stakeholders were the people that contributed these monies abinitio. You as a stakeholder you are expected to contribute 15%, NIMASA will contribute 50%, commercial banks will contribute 35%; making up 100%, but the commercial bank will be made to guarantee the fund 100%. What it means is that they are asking them to guarantee the whole liability and they will give it their normal risk assessment rating. So at the end of the day, the interest rate becomes so high but with the establishment of maritime banks, since it is going to be a specialised bank solely for maritime business, it will understand the peculiarity of the industry. It will enable us to compete favourably with our foreign counterparts, so the interests have to be single digit.
What is your position on the Nigerian Navy asking for 1% from NIMASA’s fund?
Of course we wrote a position on that, Navy has no business in commercial shipping. Commercial shipping is different from their own statutory duty as the maritime police that is policing our waters against external aggression and internal uprising. Yes to the extent of curtailing sea robbery, pirates and all that. But when Navy are getting leg deep into commercial shipping, it is something I am not comfortable with.
We learnt that it costs $30, 000 dollars to board Navy on vessels from Lagos to Port-Harcourt, what do you have to say about that?
That is abnormality; in a society where things are done properly, there will be no need for such unnecessary and avoidable expenses on the part of ship owners. What it means is that we are over pricing our services, how can we compete favourably with other countries. It is impossible, if you’re saying that Navy has to take money from ship owners to perform their statutory function it is unfortunate and it is something the federal government have to look critically into. And it is because all these things have been monetised, Navy have been so comfortable with it and that is why they are so interested in commercial shipping. How can a ship that is loaded to go and discharge and for security to be provided, how can Navy be charging such amount of money. That is a lot of money; so all these things are what should not happen in an organised society at all, it is very unfortunate.