Capt Waredi Eniosuoh is a former Director at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency. In this exclusive interview with Shipping Position Daily, he speaks on sundry maritime industry issues, especially the Cabotage Act, the CVFF and the NSDP.
How have things been with you since you left NIMASA?
It’s been very effective. All the experiences I have, have come to play and the good thing about it is that it has become more of a supporting role to the industry and the international community. As I said, it’s an interesting one, very interesting.
We get contacted by so many organisations because the Gulf of Guinea as you see, is becoming very interesting; not just locally but also internationally. So I have had to deal with quite a number of international bodies, they ask me about the status, see the situation of the environment and how we can improve lives and business. So that is why I’ve said it’s been very interesting.
Can you be specific about what you have been doing?
As you know, interestingly sometimes we have had situations where ships run into serious issues and we need to resolve them. Some of the companies are not very particular about the publicity of things. They rely on people that have got the experience of resolving their issues for them without bringing too much negative pressure to them; things like that. Some of them want to do business in the region and look at how they will come and register their vessels and businesses within our region. Those are sometimes interesting issues, issues that can create jobs for us.
Appraisal of the maritime industry as a whole, so far this year?
Looking at it from the COVID times; the new situation, I think they have not really done badly if you ask me. But it would have been better too if we have been more focused. But the prospects are very high. The possibilities of improving is there and the potentials are yet to be fully explored. So it is looking good for us at the moment if we are ready to do the right things.
Some see the Cabotage as a failure. Do you agree?
Not totally. Why I say not totally is because sometimes it is easy to copy, but it may not be easy to paste and practice. As you know, the Act did not originate from us. It came from the United States Jones Act of 1963. If you go back to the fellows we took the Act from, you will discover that by the virtue of civilization, developments and so on, they themselves, the originators have made amendments to it now within certain areas and restrictions, Foreign ships I think can even participate in Cabotage within the United States. Now let’s come back to Nigeria. Looking at the Nigeria side of things, there’s no doubt about it that we have done (to some extent) what we could. I think not quite long ago, I was in a conference where we were talking about it that within the next five years, we would find ourselves in a situation whereby there will be no waivers anymore.
For now, I can say it is not going to be possible because first, we do not build ships, we still bring ships into the country. The type of businesses we have in our region are so specialised that we need to rely on specialised ships not even ordinary ships. Specialised ships also require specialised qualifications and experience also to run. Some of these (luckily) our institutions are about to provide while some are not. Since we don’t build these ships and we also do not have the money to buy these ships, we may be forced to hire them. If we hire them, who knows the conditions the owners will give? What do I mean by these conditions? They are not going to allow you sometimes to change their flags to a Nigerian flag for obvious reasons. As I said, the initial stage of the industry needs to seriously look into the issues that I am going to say now.
The moment you change your flag to another country’s flag, depending on the maritime status of that country, the value of your assets is going to change. It is either it is going to go up or go down. If you change it to a flag that is high in terms of maritime regime, the value of your assets will be up. If you change it to a country that does not have a very good regime in terms of maritime administration, the value of your assets will go down. That is why most countries or ship owners prefer to keep their flags. So if you keep your flag, then the crewing, manning and maintenance of that ship is going to depend on the flag you intend to maintain and that flag may not allow you to some extent place your locals on board their ships by the virtue of the fact that your certificate is not recognised or your level of training is not up to theirs. So there are a lot of issues. In terms of that, the only time we can say 100 percent that we are going to practice the Cabotage in the way it is written in the Act without the waivers is when we really up our game to the standards high enough for foreigners to recognise us as a maritime power. That is my position.
What’s your take on the non-disbursement of CVFF?
The contributions have been going on for quite a long time with naira components and so on. Although I wasn’t too deep into the Cabotage. But by virtue of the fact that my knowledge in shipping is vast, the disbursement has to take a fair bid of calculations into it. It is a Vessel Financing Fund as far as we know. If it is Vessel Financing, first how much is there to finance how many vessels? That is the question. I don’t know, I have not been hosting that amount of money so I really can’t tell you how many vessels can be financed. And if you want to finance those vessels, who will you finance it with? But mind you, it is the responsibility of the banks involved also to look into it and see how they can best go about it. It is a very risky area, no doubt, because you don’t want to tip the balance in terms of someone may think you favoured a company over another. So it is something of concern to the ship owners or those who are contributing into it. But those who are contributing into the fund have the responsibility to check how much they contributed knowing full well that if it is good enough for them to own a ship by now, and they have the experience to operate the ship by their own. But a lot of people may say “Yes it is our money”. Yes, it is your money but spend it wisely when the time comes.
NNPC is accused of violating the Cabotage Act by using foreign ships to lift products.
I don’t really think it is a violation of the Cabotage Act. Why am I saying this? A lot of the ships that the NNPC use for lifting Cabotage products if I may say, taking about refined products within the coast, those companies are registered in Nigeria and given waivers by the government to operate. So if they have been given waivers to operate by the government, it was the same government that also came about the Cabotage Act. So, how come it is now illegal? I don’t see it as illegal. They gave them licenses to operate and the moment they gave them those licenses to operate, they literally become locals. So they can compete favourably. So I think the best is that we need to up our game locally to be able to compete favourably. Shipping is an international thing, whether it is local or coming from the outside. If your game is good, people will patronise you. But if your game is not proper, then nobody will patronise you. That is the situation.
Do you think the NSDP is meeting its objectives?
I think we may need to take a survey of the industry to really see where the graduates are. We need to take a survey of the companies operating locally and possibly also the contacts of the graduates. Where are they now and how are they part of those developing shipping? This is because the whole idea of the programme initially is to develop shipping and to bring us into manageable level locally and be able to also get international recognition and that we are producing technical people for the industry which is also a good thing for our standing within the international maritime community. It is not a bad thing. But looking at it properly, we need to also take stock of the spending. These monies would have been used to improve local institutions and our local standards because if you send somebody outside to go and obtain foreign certificate without empowering your local institutions or opportunities, you are still empowering the outside countries. If for example let’s say the Philippines say they have put out six million seafarers into the maritime space, they are looking at it from those point of view where at the end of the day, they have issued six million certificates and not all the six million certificates may be Phillipinos. There may even be Nigerians involved in it.
Do you support the call for the establishment of a National fleet?
Most countries are actually moving away from that, because shipping as we see today is more of a private ventured business. The procedures to keep a shipping company afloat are too complex in a heavily bureaucratic environment. I’ll be very frank, so it is only the private sector that can sustain shipping. This is because the bureaucracy of seeking approvals to keep something that is constantly on the move afloat, is a very difficult one which I think the government needs to look at deeply before jumping into it.
Will you prefer a Coast Guard or a Navy, that will be fully in charge of Nigeria’s Maritime Security?
It depends on how you take it, but I don’t think the Coast Guard is a better option. Why did I say so? The only way to secure your waters is your strategy. Can you guarantee me that the strategy we don’t have today will come tomorrow by putting a Coast Guard? I don’t think so. The truth of the situation is that; we have bot really sat down to look at the strategy of our region in terms of maritime. So as soon as we do that, I guess everything will be fine.
After the recent IMB report which favoured Nigeria, there appears to be a resurgence of piracy. Are you surprised?
I am not surprised. If you look at the statistics that was given, it was a worldwide statistics. It was not just a regional one. Piracy has dropped worldwide. That was the statistics. So quickly coming out to say it was because of this and that we did, wasn’t really very correct; if you ask me. This is because anything you set up and you have not tested in anger, you can never claim credit. That is the reason. The opportunity came for us to test what we have now on ground in anger and we never did so, how? The foreign Navies that came in are people we didn’t even know that they are on our waters. So I guess at the end of the day, it tells us that we need to do more.
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