This week’s editorial is meant to achieve two things; it is meant to analyse the MT Makhambet story and also
appraise the implementation of the Cabotage Act of 2003. In doing this, we intend (in our own little way) to offer the new management of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) our perspective on the implementation of the Act.
When a couple of weeks ago, Indigenous Shipowners Association of Nigeria (ISAN) and an indigenous shipping company; Pokat Nigeria Limited decided to take their destiny in their own hands by doing what statutorily should have been done by NIMASA, not many understood the great implication of the action.
Although, the case between the duo of ISAN and Pokat on the one hand the trio of MT Makhambet, her owners and her captain on the other is now in the public domain, we will avoid being prejudicial in our appraisal of the issues surrounding what is turning out to be the first real trial of Cabotage Act.
Sometime last year, this paper wrote that Cabotage implementation was “all motion and no movement”; and this is, apparently because the well-thought-out rationale for its enactment and the well articulated modality for its implementation have been jettisoned.
Cabotage has four instructive pillars; all of which, if implemented, would have by now transformed indigenous shipping operations and by extension, the nation’s economy to the next level. A Cabotage – compliant vessel is that vessel or crafts that are: wholly owned by Nigerians, crewed entirely by Nigerians, hoists Nigerian flag, built and dry docked in Nigeria.
Why Nigerians should take exceptional interest in the trial of MT Makhambet is that if the court eventually rules in favour of the plaintiffs, it would be a precedent and a definitive affirmation which will deter those who have either mis-implemented Cabotage or failed to implement it.
It is for the court to decide whether the ship violated the provisions of Cabotage Act or not, it is also left for stakeholders to support both ISAN and Pokat in this battle. We also share in the statement credited to counsel to the plaintiff, Mr Mike Igbokwe to the effect that the trial of MT Makhambet was to test the intent and powers of Cabotage.
It would have been a good morale booster for ISAN and Pokat if NIMASA had led other stakeholders in the maritime industry to the court where the case is being heard.
ISAN alleged that the controversial ship is not flying a Nigerian and that she had no Nigerian crew and the ship is not owned by a Nigerian. The group also justified its action recently when it explained that going to court was to challenge the violation of the Cabotage law by the vessel owner.
We are convinced that NIMASA has only implemented the Act to the extent that it can collect the waiver application fees. We are also certain that successive ministers of transport have not given adequate supervision to the implementation of Cabotage Act. There are countless instances of when waiver application fees were collected from non-compliant ships, while the minister grants approval without looking at the provisions of the Act.
It is on record that the Senator Ugochukwu Uba-led committee roundly criticised NIMASA for poor implementation. One of the most striking findings was that only 25 per cent of the over 2,000 vessels that are operating on Nigerian waters are captured in the Cabotage special register and that the process of granting waivers are less than transparent. The damaging report says that sadly, foreign vessels operate in Nigeria, even when their waiver applications are still been processed.
Perhaps, the starting point for the new NIMASA management is to take a look at the recommendations of the ministerial committee which reviewed the implementation of the Act. The recommendations have been lying on the shelve or in a drawer in the office of the minister of transport, Alhaji Ibrahim Isa Bio since it was submitted almost six months ago.
Even if the minister is not eager to implement the recommendations, it behoves on the NIMASA management to lobby and seek a new lease of life for this all-important law.
Considering the fact that Cabotage offers limitless opportunities for indigenous players and considering the fact that more and more of the likes of MT Makhambet of this world are still on the prowl on Nigerian waters, NIMASA’s new management should see Cabotage implementation as its cardinal goal. Whether this is done or not; only time will tell.