After successfully scaling the mandatory hurdles of first and second readings at the House of Representatives, the controversial Maritime Security Agency bill is due for public hearing on Wednesday, January13, 2010.
The bill seeks to establish an inter agency and semi-military outfit to be saddled with the task of providing security for the multibillion Naira maritime as well as oil and gas investments; both in Lagos and in the Niger Delta.
Shipping Position Weekly recalls that the bill had passed through second reading on December 17 last year.
Our correspondent however confirmed that the urgency which the marine transport committee attaches to the bill stems from a directive which reportedly emanated from the Speaker of the House, Hon Dimeji Bankole to the effect that all bills which have passed second reading must be expeditiously subjected to public hearing by the relevant committees. A time-table for hearing was said to have been drawn to accommodate all such bills.
Expected to draw stakeholders from across the board and from a cross breed of interests, this week’s public hearing may turn out to be the marine transport committee’s most risky assignment since its inauguration.
The bill is however seen by maritime industry stakeholders as a resuscitation of the moribund Presidential Implementation Committee on Maritime Safety and Security (PICOMSS); an ad- hoc creation of the federal government in 2004 in the wake of the rush to meet the demand of the International Ships and Ports Facility Security (ISPS) Code. Its secretariat was at the ministry of transport until 2006 when it was moved to the presidency where it has remained ever since.
The proposed agency is expected to have wide ranging powers, including superintending coastguard officials. The agency will have powers to “inspect ships, arrest suspects and carry firearms within the Niger Delta region. It is also expected to provide security information on oil and gas pipelines, rigs, platforms and all other established installation”.
It will also be empowered to carry light arms and will be vested with powers to “stop, enter, board, inspect, search any ship or craft within the Nigerian maritime zone or territorial waters, demand the production of any license, permit, record, certificate or other document or make copies of or take extracts of such license, permit, record, certificate or other document in relation to matters provided for under the enabling Act”.
Shipping Position Weekly also confirmed that it will be charged with the continued coordination of the implementation of certain portions of the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention as well as the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code.
Sources confirmed that the security agency will be funded from a one per cent levy on annual profits from companies using Nigeria’s waterways.
If passed into law, no fewer than 22 statutory functions of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) will be ceded to the proposed agency; a possibility which maritime sector stakeholders have vowed to resist.
But apart from NIMASA, five other government agencies are likely to lose some of their core functions if the MSA becomes a reality. These agencies include: Navy, Air Force, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and the Police.
These agencies are all expected to send representatives to the public hearing and also state their cases.