Highly-placed industry maritime sources have confirmed to Shipping Position Daily that last week’s outburst by the Minister of Transportation; Mr Rotimi Amaechi is a direct reaction to the ministry’s frustration over the apparently unstoppable activities of Ocean Marine Services Limited (OMSL); operators of the controversial Secure Anchorage Area in the approach to Lagos ports.
The Lagos Secure Anchorage Area is an area outside the Lagos port, that the Nigerian Navy, with OMSL has defined as a secure place where Lagos port-bound vessels can anchor safely from the threat of pirate attack. This service comes with a fee.
Our investigations revealed that despite the firm directives by the Nigerian Ports Authourity (NPA) in December 2019 denouncing the operations of OMSL and the follow up order by the Minister of Transportation in February 2020, multinational shipping lines have discretely expressed their preference for the protection offered them at the Lagos Secure Anchorage.
The NPA had insisted that provision of security in the nation’s waters is not a business venture, but a constitutional responsibility of NIMASA, Nigerian Navy and Marine Police.
But, while speaking in February this year at a media briefing in Lagos, the Minister said: “I took the decision to stop the Secure Anchorage project, because the issue is that an individual cannot protect a country; it shows that there is a failure in the system”.
The minister said that government was reintroducing a maritime architecture that would ensure that infrastructure was in place to safeguard the country’s waterways.
Last week again, the minister reiterated the ministry’s disdain for the SAA contract, but sounded helpless. He consequently threw the challenge of stopping the patronage of OMSL back at stakeholders in the maritime industry.
Speaking at the 2020 World Maritime Day celebration in Lagos, the Minister accused OMSL of defrauding the nation and tasked industry players to help stop it.
The Minister admitted that the Nigerian maritime security arrangement is in crisis, even as he challenged maritime industry stakeholders to move against the activities of Ocean Marine Solution Limited.
He said: "The Ministry of Transportation has the responsibility to set up the Secure Anchorage Area, today we have an individual collecting between $1,500 and $2000 daily from merchant ships.
"The stakeholders are doing nothing to the individual and he has become so rich, as a result of exploiting the industry.
But, investigations by our correspondents confirmed high level endorsement and the preference for OMSL by shipping agents as reasons the minister has not been able to sack the secure anchorage firm.
For instance, it was confirmed that OMSL enjoys the backing of its partner; the Nigerian Navy. A source close to OMSL confirmed this much, even as he pleaded that, the company is not flaunting this.
The minister had alluded to the possibility of OMSL endorsement by the Navy when he told stakeholders at the World Maritime Day celebrations last week that: "That one individual to the detriment of our shipping industry, is still existing and still managing the business with support of other institutions”.
Apart from the Navy, the minister’s headache with OMSL services at the Secure Anchorage Area Lagos is the clean bill of health that was given by a joint committee of the Senate that probed the Secure Anchorage Area Operations. It was headed by Senator George Sekibo as Chairman, Senate Committee on Navy. Other members were: Senator Mohammed Dajuma Goje, Chairman Senate Committee on Marine Transport and Senator Solomon Olamilekan Adeola, Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance.
A copy of the committee’s report which was obtained by Shipping Position Daily clearly confirmed Senate’s preference for OMSL.
The committee affirmed in the report that “the Nigerian Navy is responsible for securing the Nigerian territorial waterways and is at liberty to be in a collaboration that will effectively enhanced its operations and aid in delivering its mandate”.
It also affirmed, “that Ocean Marine Solution Limited (OMSL) should be commended for its genuine national interests in investing over Four Hundred Million ($400,000,000) Dollars into the Security at the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA) in particular and the Nigerian waterways in general by providing the needed platforms and logistics for the Nigerian Navy to effectively perform 24/7/365 patrol operations as well as to provide the required protection for vessels waiting to berth at the Lagos ports”.
In the report, the Senate joint committee declared that, “since no fraud is found in the operations of the OMSL and is operating at no cost to government, OMSL should be allowed to continue its operation at the SAA until such a time when a better and more cost effective system is put in place by the government”.
Reacting to question by our correspondent, a source close to the Shipping Association of Nigeria (SAN) told our correspondent that the committee found no fault in the operations of OMSL.
The source, who is also a very senior member of the shipping community, but who pleaded anonymity, because he was not authorized to speak on the matter of Secure Anchorage Area (SAA), told our correspondent that government lacked the willpower to take a decision on the SAA.
First, 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.