The defunct National Maritime Authourity (NMA) and the Joint Maritime Labour Industrial Council (JOMALIC) were merged about three years ago to pave way for the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). Prior to that time, both agencies had performed independent, but sometimes overlapping functions.
While the NMA (which was carved out of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council in 1987) was responsible for the enhancement of Nigeria’s participation in global shipping business, the (much younger) JOMALIC was saddled with the responsibility of protecting the interests of seafarers and dockworkers.
Apparently in response to agitation by some stakeholders and inline with government’s desire to harmonise some of its agencies, both NMA and JOMALIC were merged and at first christened National Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NAMASA) and later, NIMASA.
Broadly, the roles of NIMASA can be categorised as: development of manpower and capacity, shipping development, maritime safely, superintending maritime labour, implementation of Cabotage law, pollution prevention and control as well as maintenance of maritime safety and security.
Out of these responsibilities, NIMASA is more often assessed based on its performance or non-performance in the areas of shipping development, enforcement of Cabotage, maritime safety and security as well as maritime labour administration.
When the Cabotage law was enacted in 2003, it raised hopes that Nigeria may have begun her match towards being a truly ship-owning nation. But five years down the line, what can we really point at as the achievements of Cabotage and without speaking for indigenous shipowners, their situation is not in any way better.
Some people have argued that those indigenous ship owners who are constantly complaining are the” low- level and unambitious” ones, but then, the question is, let us have a register of indigenous ship owners so as to ascertain the identities of the “serious players” who have been so favoured by Cabotage.
This newspaper holds the strong conviction that majority of Nigerian ship owners are groaning right under the nose of NIMASA that should assist them. Let us look at these together: some of them have had their vessels seized by the Nigeria Customs Service for non-payment of import duty on ships, “their very own” NIMASA threatened to commence implementation of the global ban on the use of Single Hull tankers by 2009; a clear six years ahead of the 2015 International Maritime Organisation (IMO) implementation date and only two weeks ago words filtered out that most of the indigenous ship owners have been fined by the same NIMASA for alleged illegal crewing.
If NIMASA is going to succeed in the performance of its duties in the area of shipping development, it has to encourage Nigeria ship owners to grow their fleet. This can not be achieved under a discriminating policy which allows air crafts and their components to be imported without payment of duty, while ships owners are taxed heavily and NIMASA can not successfully make a case.
Nigeria can not claim to be a shipping nation without her own fleet, she can not also lay claim to being a maritime nation with a depleted and largely unemployed and unemployable plethora of seafarers. The question is: since it was commissioned more than two years ago, how many Nigerian seafarers have taken advantage of the celebrated Seafarers Identity Document (SID) facilities in Lagos, which according to NIMASA was meant to make Nigeria the first in Africa.
The Regional Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (RMRCC) was commissioned last year; it was meant to assist distressed ships and seafarers within and around Nigeria’s territorial waters. It is however yet to be seen how effectively the global facilities have been put to use.
Shortly after its commissioning, this newspaper had cause to devote an editorial to the achievement. In the opinion; we took a clue from the admonition of the Secretary General of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), Mr Efthimious Mitropulous who stated at the commissioning that the edifice would be useless if there were no committed and dedicated hands to man it.
We had expressed optimism that with the commissioning of the RMRCC, NIMASA, would step up from being a mere search and recover agency to a truly search and rescue organisation.
We dare say that NIMASA has not been able to use the RMRCC to assist members of Nigerian Trawler Owners Association (NITOA) whose fishing trawlers and crew have been hijacked, robbed and even killed.
NIMASA could not do anything even with the RMRCC until the chief of defence staff; Admiral Paul Dike inaugurated a task force to man the nation’s waters. NIMASA is a member of the task force.
Without mincing words, NIMASA is way out of understanding its mandate or is it that it does not have the competence to execute it. Otherwise, why should an organisation that was created to foster indigenous participation in global shipping business always be at loggerheads with the very group that it is meant to protect. NIMASA should help indigenous shipping operators to flourish, its management should have a clearer understanding of its mandate.