Ship owners have voiced varying concerns and apprehension over the proposal by the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy; Mr Adegboyega Oyetola for the revitalization of a national career for the shipping industry. This is even as they urged the Minister to provide clarity and detailed plans regarding the proposed revitalization of the National Fleet
Shipping Position Daily recalls that the Minister had at a stakeholders’ engagement last week, announced the ministry’s commitment to leveraging Public-Private Partnership (PPP) models to revive the National Shipping Fleet.
Oyetola emphasized that the initiative’s goal is to secure a substantial share of the estimated $10 billion annual ship charter market within the country. He reassured stakeholders that the revival would not hinder local players’ growth, but provide opportunities for them to enhance value through ship construction, maintenance, and repairs, aligning with the Cabotage Act granting Nigerians exclusive control over locally generated seaborne trade.
However, the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) in reaction to the Minister’s statement last week, kicked against the plan to re-establish a National Shipping Line without addressing the plight of disengaged aged seafarers who were part of the defunct national carrier.
The President General of the Union, Comrade Adewale Adeyanju said the re-establishment of a new NNSL after 28 years of its liquidation would be a mirage if the retired seafarers who worked tirelessly with deep sense of patriotism for the country were not given their due rights.
But, speaking with various ship owners last week, our correspondent discovered latent skepticism regarding the recurrent promises made by government officials concerning shipping development. They called for pragmatic action and strategic partnerships for effective implementation.
President of the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping (NCS) and a prominent ship owner, Alhaji Aminu Umar emphasized that the new initiative appears to be driven by the private sector, hinting that it might not specifically aim to revive the defunct national shipping line, but establishment of a new concept.
Sounding highly skeptical,, Alhaji Umar recalled previous intentions by the former Minister; Mr Rotimi Amaechi, who also sought to establish a National Fleet. Alhaji Umar suggested that the current Minister might be aligning with similar aspirations to introduce a national fleet, thereby enabling Nigerians to have stakes in ships operating within Nigerian waters and beyond.
While welcoming the government’s consideration of such a proposal, Alhaji Umar highlighted the complexities involved in developing a national fleet. He outlined crucial factors such as policy adjustments and the necessity for incentives to encourage private sector investment.
The NCS President stressed that the blueprint detailing the operational framework for this initiative would be eagerly anticipated. He expressed confidence that such plans would pique the interest of investors and ship owners, prompting involvement and contributions to shipping development in Nigeria.
In his words: “I do not think he is coming to resuscitate the already dead national shipping line. If you remember, the then Minister Amaechi also wanted to bring up what is called the National Fleet or the Nigerian Fleet. So I believe that the Honorable minister is also towing that line to bring up what is called the national fleet so that Nigerians will have a stake in the ships that are trading within Nigerian waters and also beyond.
“I think it’s a good and welcome development for the government to look at it. However, developing the national fleet means a lot, because there are a lot of things involved such as policy changes that need to be put in place as well as some incentives that need to be put in place, so that it will encourage investment by the private sector.
“I am sure that is what the minister is talking about. So we look forward to him unveiling the blueprint of how it is going to work. And then I’m sure many of the investors in the business and ship owners will also want to dig into that development when it comes” Umar concluded.
Also speaking, the President of the Nigeria Shipowners’ Association (NISA), Otunba Sola Adewumi underscored the need for a detailed plan from the Minister regarding the proposed National Fleet, stressing the importance of scrutinizing the procedural intricacies before making assessments on its viability.
Expressing skepticism about the efficacy of government-led endeavours in Nigeria, Adewumi voiced concerns about potential internal obstacles due to shifting visions across successive administrations. He strongly advocated for active private sector involvement, believing that their vested interests would contribute significantly to the success of any initiative.
The NISA President also reiterated the association’s advocacy to obtain a National Carrier status which according to him, would encourage partnerships due to perceived preferential treatment, thereby fostering substantial growth within the shipping industry.
He said: “The Minister said it is going to be a PPP arrangement, so we are waiting for him to bring up the procedure or his plans. Let us see how the arrangement will be; seeing his plan first, before we would now know whether it is workable or not.
“The point is that anything that is run by the government does not work in this country. Some people will surely sabotage it, because they might not carry the same vision. If the government changes today, there might be different visions. So that’s one of the reasons I said we should allow you to come up with this plan. If the private people are participating, there will be no doubt about it that everybody will try to protect their investments. So that’s why I’m saying we should allow him to come up with this plan. If it is something that is going to work, we’ll support it. If it is not going to work, we would let people know our position”.
On his part, another ship owner who pleaded anonymity highlighted the recurring nature of such assurances. He perceived a sense of repetition, echoing his sentiments that mere reiteration of intentions hadn’t translated into tangible progress in the past.
The ship owner raised poignant queries regarding the feasibility and execution of these plans. He however advocated for a shift from ceremonial rhetoric to actionable strategies, stressing the need to engage potential partners to ensure the realization of the proposed National Fleet.
“I think we should have asked him how he intends to do it and how the thing is going to go. That’s what I think is more prudent. It’s neither here nor there. This has not helped us in the past. Amaechi (former minister) came and said the same thing. It’s like we’re rebroadcasting.
“We have a new Minister in the new Marine and Blue Economy ministry. How do we make it work? Where is the investment now? Where are the ships? Talking will not bring the ships? It’s a pity. So let’s go and find who is going to partner. The next question should be to the minister – Where is he going to get the money from? I think we should look for partners. That’s what we should do.