· Transportation Minister Adamant Against OMSL
· Navy Says We Are Still Holding ‘Strategic Meeting’
Feelers emerged last week that the Federal Government is at a crossroad over the controversial Secure Anchorage (SAA), and it is not in a hurry to terminate the contract of Ocean Marine Services Limited, providers of the service.
The money-spinning contract has been a subject of controversies, especially since the Minster of Transportation; Mr Rotimi Amaechi opened up on his dislike for the contract and intention to see Ocean Marine Services Limited sacked.
But, our investigations revealed that multinational shipping lines have thrown their weight behind the continuation of the Secure Anchorage Area (SAA) and the services of OMSL.
The shipping companies, despite being served a Marine Notice by the Nigerian Port Authourity as a reminder to discontinue patronage of its services, multinational shipping lines have remained adamant and have continued to anchor their ships at the controversial Secure Anchorage Area, while waiting to berth at Lagos ports.
At the behest of the Minister, the Nigerian Ports Authority had in the Marine Notice, clearly warned vessels against anchoring at the Secured Anchorage Area and threatened that any ship found within that axis will face sanction.
Our findings revealed that, the shipping companies and the navy are in agreement about the continued relevance of the SAA and the continued relevance of OMSL as the service provider.
The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, had during the recent celebration of the World Maritime Day expressed disappointment over the continued patronage of the Ocean Marine Services Limited (OMSL) by shipping companies.
Amaechi hinted that the operation was still on despite efforts by his Ministry and NPA to stop the private firm.
Recall that Amaechi had also in February this year given an order stopping the private firm from offering services to the shipping lines.
However, authoritative sources who are in the know of the intrigues, confirmed that OMSL enjoys the full backing of the Nigerian Navy, which has reportedly thrown its weight behind the continuous patronage of the Secure Anchorage Area,
Apart from the Navy, multinational shipping lines have also justified the continuous patronage of the SAA in Lagos despite warning by the Minister and the Nigerian Port Authority.
The shipping lines have continued to hinge their patronage of OMSL for provision of security for their ships, on the volatile nature of the approach to Lagos harbours.
They argue that as a result of the prevailing piracy issues in the country waters, their ships must be assured of their safety.
While expressing fear that many of the ships that come into the nation’s waters suffer piracy, pay a lot of ransom, as a result of the crew kidnapping.
Our correspondents confirmed that, after series of meeting between the various parties, including the Nigerian Navy, NPA and shipping lines, there has been no solution yet.
But confirming that the controversies over the Secure Anchorage Area in Lagos is yet to be resolved, Navy spokesperson Commodore Suleman Dahun, told our correspondent that, “the matter is being discussed at the highest level”. He however refused to give further details.
“I will let you know when the matter is resolved finally, that is all I can tell you at the moment”, he said finally.
But, speaking to our correspondent recently a maritime security expert; Capt. Segun Oniye while responding to an allegation that OMSL pay pirates to attacks vessels that fail to use the SAA, said although he is not privy to the allegation. He however said if the water is calm, there will be no need to use the secured anchorage area, he explained that, this is an avenue for the company to create demand for its business.
He said, “I don’t know about that, but there is no smoke without fire, if the water is calm, nobody will hire their security boats for patrol, so definitely they will create demand for their business, why should I hire gun boats to secure my vessels, if the water is calm, but like I said I have not confirmed whether OMSL pays pirates to attack or not to attack vessels, I will make my investigation to ascertain this”, he said.
Reacting to the seeming difficulty on the part of the Government to take a decision on the Lagos SAA, a source close to the Shipping Association of Nigeria (SAN) told our correspondent that government lacked the willpower to take a decision on the SAA.
The source, who is also a very senior member of the shipping community, but who pleaded anonymity, said it was apparent that there is support from OMSL from a certain quarter.
“In any case, shipping lines want adequate security for their ships and that is why OMSL is still enjoying their support”, he said.
“I can tell you that, if government says today that OMSL should stop providing security services at the Lagos Area, it will have to offer assurance that our ships would be safe in the approaches to Lagos ports.
“We (shipping lines) will also be at liberty to impose levies to assuage for any eventuality in case our ships are attacked”, he added, even as he confirmed that, there has been no attack on ships in the SAA since the OMSL/Navy alliance.
The source also confirmed that, all multinational shipping lines operating in Nigeria patronize the SAA, he added that, this is why the Minister may have a challenge sacking OMSL.
“It is either the government provides securitized passage for the ships or it allows the existing arrangement which ensures safety at no cost to the government. It cannot decree that shipping lines should stop patronizing OMSL without providing a proven alternative”, he stressed.
A source at the Ministry of Transportation corroborated the dilemma of the Minister about the SAA and the OMLS contract. He hinted that the issue may be out of the purview of the Minister, he refused to give further details.