· “Every vessel that goes into the water, must be seen to be sea-worthy”
Capt. Tony Onoharigho (Ph.D), is the first black man to own a classification company in Nigeria. He is also a Deputy Registrar with Liberia Maritime Authority and equally the Chief Executive of Conarina Maritime Academy, Abraka in Delta state. He was the National President of Nigerian Institute of Shipping, former Vice President (East), Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, Nigeria and Africa regional director of Conarina group based in Miami, United Kingdom. In this interview, Capt. Onoharigho spoke on a wide range of issues.
You are one of the few Nigerians who attended Maritime Academy of Nigeria to study Nautical Science but today you have a Ph.D in Transport Geography. As a Ship Surveyor who have boarded several vessels for over two decades, how would you describe the sea trade from a practical perspective and as a maritime Scholar?
As a marine surveyor you must first be a Sailor. The sea trade is an international trade globally. Many maritime nations survive on sea trade and it is the reason countries like Philippines depend on monies from seafaring. Many top maritime nations’ economies are dependent on income from maritime and its allied services. So we need more sailors in Nigeria because most of the ships are manned by foreigners especially Philippines. But with the upgrade in facilities in Maritime academy of Nigeria, Oron and the role of NIMASA things are certainly going to get better. Also, as a marine surveyor my role is to make sure that a ship is sea worthy before it can sail in our territorial waters. It requires a lot of intelligence to be a ship surveyor and I have been doing it for years. I was the representative of IRS for 4 years before I went to Conarina Group a company based in Miami, United states. One thing I have discovered is that most International oil companies, IOCs, formed carter and that is why they are the only companies hired in our territorial waters. Even our local vessels owned by indigenous operators suffer the same fate. But generally speaking Shipping or Maritime is very broad. Apart from crewing a vessel/ship, you need to register the vessel, the ship/vessel will be inspected from time to time through flag state inspection, aside equipping the ship/vessel with the necessary radio/communication facilities and personnel. The maritime and its allied industries can create so much resource that is three times what we get from crude oil in Nigeria in addition to generating so much employment for our teeming youths.
Not many people are aware of the opportunities in the maritime and allied industries. What is responsible?
Half of Southern Nigeria is water. Check where the rivers and ocean occupy from the lower Niger and beyond. Notwithstanding the size of our territorial waters nothing relating to water/maritime is taught in our primary and secondary schools except a subject like geography until one gets to tertiary institutions. So much awareness about maritime potentials are not there. Our people only do courses mainly relating to law, marine engineering, medicine, accounting and so on. Most of us who went into nautical science did so out of choice. Journalists have a wide role to play in this region to help people know about the vast opportunities in the maritime sector. The oil companies should equally help in this regards. Look at our ecological systems that are being destroyed, yet the entire coastal regions have oil and maritime potentials that can make us live comfortably yet our people are not getting jobs in oil companies and shipping companies mainly because of lack of awareness and none ultilisation of our maritime potentials.
You are also the only black man who currently owns a class company in Nigeria. What does that mean to the common man?
Class company is not a classroom(laughter). It is called ship classification. Every vessel that goes into the water must be seen to be sea worthy. My role as a ship surveyor is like a Vehicle Inspection Officer, VIO. We check the safety, steel, crew, mechanics, propeller, rodder etc of vessels. If after inspection, you find the vessel sea worthy, you so certify the vessel as sea worthy. That is just one of the things l do with my classification company. I am a technical Director of the Class company based in the United States
Many shipping companies take their vessels out of Nigeria for dry docking. What is responsible for this?
The ship owner has a right to take his vessels for dry docking anywhere in the world. But before now Cameroun, South Africa and Abidjan, were destinations for dry docking of vessels in West Africa. But why should a ship owner take a vessel to Abidjan or South Africa for dry docking like you asked? Ordinarily, I don’t have a dry dock, but I engage the service of dry docking company for maintenance. We should encourage people to do dry docking of their ships in Nigeria.
Do we have manpower and equipment for dry docking in Nigeria?
Nigerdock and NISCO trained so many persons that can do welding and maintenance of vessels, besides we have people who have gone outside Nigeria to specialize in dry docking and have established their own dry docking facilities so it is not a matter of whether we have our own manpower it is a function of patronage and mindset of ship owners. The problem for now is that there is no patronage for indigenous dry docking companies.
The Cabotage Act was enacted in 2003 to help indigenous ship owners, seafarers and ship building process in Nigeria. What is your estimation of the Cabotage scheme?
Cabotage is an area of interest to me because my Ph.D. was on Cabotage. For me, Cabotage is a complete failure. The law says ship should be built in Nigeria, manned by Nigerians and such ship should be built by Nigerians. Though there were provisions for waivers in the implementation of the Cabotage law but I must say that the Cabotage policy implementation has not helped indigenous ship owners. Go and ask them if you are in doubt.
Some stakeholders are calling for the disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund, what is your position?
This is what the money is meant for, so it should be disbursed. The money can acquire ULCC (Ultra Large Crude Carrier) or VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier). I think we can buy 3 VLCC vessels owned by the government and it is used to lift crude oil. First it will enable Nigeria get the insurance and freight carriage (I &F) instead of cost and freight (C & F ) process we engage as a country thereby depriving indigenous ship operators of making gains from the nation’s maritime potentials by getting businesses from possibly the NNPC. The crew of the VLCC vessels will carry minimum of 20 to 40 persons depending on the cabin capacity and if the crew comprise all Nigerians for instance, it creates room for employment. That is what the disbursement of the CVFF will help to address because vessels are very expensive and if an individual buys one, there should be government patronage. That was the reason for the Jones Act in the United States. Our own Cabotage law was equally intended to benefit and protect indigenous ship owners. It is not late to address it. The CVFF disbursement will turn Nigeria economy around. In Iran, their crude oil is sold on C & 1 not FOB – Free on board.
You are one of the key users of our territorial waters. How safe is our territorial waters and how can we make it safer?
A time came we went for the Gulf of Guinea conference and everyone was worried. It got to a point that when people sail in the waters they were carrying arms to protect their vessels on the waters. Many reasons account for why the waters are not safe. In the US, they have coast guards. We have the Navy but do we have them enough to police the entire territorial waters? Even if we do, People are hungry in this country; as such they are prepared to do anything to make the water not to be safe. If we compliment the role of the Navy with another security outfit to protect our coastlines it will help us greatly because we are losing so much every day in our territorial waters to pirates and so on.
Cadet training is a major issue in Nigeria because Nigeria has no vessel for sea time experience. What does that portend?
Training is key to any country. The bedrock of development in any country is training. A Chinese boy can develop toy in hours. In our time the federal government was training people free, I am a beneficiary because ITF paid part of my school fees. However, that has changed. Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron for instance that ought to produce majority of the country’s captains and seafarers was neglected for decades. If it was maintained just as the Maritime Academy in Egypt, the school would have been competing with other academies abroad. But then where do the cadets do their practical training when Nigeria (a maritime nation) has no ship. The Maritime Academy of Nigeria has no ship for training either, but if the CVFF was used to buy vessels for indigenous ship owners and MAN, Oron, an academy recognized by International Maritime Organisation, would Nigeria be complaining of training vessel? It is indeed a big shame.
How many courses are approved for your school-Conarina Maritime Academy by NBTE?
We have NBTE’s approval for nine courses
What are the NIMASA-approved certificate courses, I mean short courses?
They are in our leaflet, but let me say they are: STCW, ISPC and Associated in Engine & Deck
How do Cadets of Conarina Maritime Academy get their sea experience knowing that Nigeria has no ship?
We have a small training vessel for practical experience, but then we have not started training cadets in nautical science.
Nowadays, most students prefer to go to the University to study Nautical Science, Marine Transport, Marine Engineering and so on, why do you think that coming to school in Conarina Maritime Academy is a better option?
We have workshop for marine engineering. We have a boat. We have water front/river for moving vessel. What is important is for a ship cadet/ nautical scientist to be able to move a vessel effectively through the river or ocean. Even if you go to a maritime university and you can not move a vessel or ship in the end, what does it amount to? At our academy, the focus is practicals; so that when you graduate from our institution, you should be able to compete with anyone anywhere in the world. At present, we do associate training of Maritime Engineers and Nautical Science (Deck) so the training vessel is of great importance to us.
What is the process of gaining admission to CONARINA maritime academy for the Diploma programme?
Admission to Conarina Maritime Academy is the same five credit minimum required by JAMB.
What about other short Courses and discrimination against seafarers with lesser or un-recognised certificates?
Sometime in the past, you find only one black man working with 200 foreigners in a foreign ship. That is beginning to change. What you call unrecognized certificates may be certificate gotten by seamen from possibly countries that are not on the list of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA. However, with the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, Akwa Ibom State, you can do COC and conversion. But one very important thing is that there is a need to let NIMASA accept Nigerians conversion of their certificates to foreign and equally allow foreigners to convert their certificates to its equivalent in Nigeria. For instance, I have Liberian class 1, Cyprus class 1, or Nigeria class 3. At what point can you say that the various classes of certificates are equal to the ones issued by other maritime institutions. There is so much discrimination against some countries that are not on NIMASA approved list.
With the recent announcement by the Education Minister that HND will be scrapped from Polytechnics’ programmes, can someone who graduates from CONARINA maritime academy gain admission to a university to do higher degree program?
Certainly, anyone who graduates from Conarina Maritime Academy and wishes to go to the University to continue with his or her career can get admission to a university.
With the new educational policy do you think that MAN, Oron should be made a maritime university?
In the first instance, the Nigeria Maritime University Okerekoko is already a university. I know that Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron is also being planned to be a university going by the presentation made to the National Assembly which has passed second reading. With the new policy of government, it is either government merges Okerekoko with MAN, Oron or merged MAN Oron with Maritime University of Nigeria, Okerekoko.
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