The Arrowhead of the Ship Owners Association and Chief Executive Officer, Starzs Group, Engr. Greg Ogbeifun expresses high hopes in the ability of Nigeria as a maritime nation, to overcome its current economic challenges, create jobs and move out of the wood in no time. But, he also believes the nation’s institutional platform, particularly the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) must play pivotal roles, by studying and doing it, in line with global best practices.
What major challenges do you anticipate in Nigeria’s flagged vessels, trading internationally?
There would be challenges; and one of the challenges if we are going to float companies that will own and operate Nigerian flags vessels and which will be trading internationally, it means that our flag administration must meet minimum international standard and that is not the case yet.
There will also be a need to re-jig and revive our flag administration to make it as attractive as the Maltese, Liberian and Panamanian etc. It is not about the size of your country, it is about the structure of your flag administration.
The Honourable Minister for Transportation (Rotimi Amaechi) is a good and commendable cause. And it is in realizing this, after an engagement with the stakeholders that he sets up a Committee to re-organize NIMASA as well, as the Nigerian flag administration. I don’t know how far that Committee has gone with that. I believe they would do a very good job of it. Otherwise, by the time the different companies established fleets that needs to be registered, they may run into road blocks. This is because if a Nigerian vessel, flying a Nigerian flag is going to a certain country and that vessel’s flag administration is not up to the required standard, they will not allow them the desired freedom to operate.
But we hope that in the process of establishing these fleets, special efforts will be made to overcome this issue.
Let me give you an example; in October last year, I was Malta, because I was invited by the Government of Malta as a Speaker in the First Malta Maritime Conference and in the process of that, I engage their flag administration, because Malta, as tiny as it is, has number one flag in Europe; aside from being the number five, in the world. So I asked them: ‘what did you do? You have no fleet! How did you do it?!’ They told me their remarkable story; and my conclusion was: ‘you have to come and help us!’
Obviously, there has to be a desire on our side to be helped. But one of the things I took away from them is that the flag administration has 81 surveys of International Certification; Master Mariners and Chief Engineers, who have First Class Certificates of Competency! That is 81 Maltese! Trained by Malta, who are driving the flag administration!
Therefore, if you buy a ship in say, Holland and flag it in Malta because there is an advantage in flagging it in Malta and your ship is trading in the far east and your ship is due for annual survey which is supposed to be carried out by a flag administration, Malta will simply fly out one of their first class Surveyors to the far east, to go and attend to your ship.
Do we have that in Nigeria? Do you see what I am talking about and that is why large ship owners may be reluctant to flag their ships with our administration because they don’t know if they have surveyors to effectively or timely handle such assignments. May be they have bilateral agreements with the classification societies, that is fine. But that still implies that you are dependent on other people!
In other words, their availability to provide timely service for you totally depends on their convenience!
So, let’s say for example, NIMASA says to Lloyds: ‘please, we need you to send a surveyor to ABC to do XYZ job and that class Surveyors are not available at that moments; it means that NIMASA will have to wait. Whereas, if you are able to build up your own capacity, you can directly intervene, and fix the issue effectively.
As a practicable example, we have just built a new ship in China to service a contract here. From inception to now, we’ve been asking NIMASA to send a surveyor, (and it is documented) to China to do what they are supposed to do or, even to send their representative up till now!
What can you tell us about Starzs group
We are internationally recognized.
Let’s for instance take a look at the Starzs Marine and Engineering, that is the shipyard; for us to be recently recognized internationally, as a Best Enterprise should speak volumes. We didn’t apply for any award. We didn’t not even know of it; we were just suddenly written to and informed and invited. That shows we have been doing our best and that our effort have attracted global recognition.
The organizers are not Nigerians. Their evaluation and assessment was based on regional expertise enterprises. It shows that we must be doing something that meets international standard and which we will continue to do. Are we perfect? No! But, we are constantly engaging the relevant authorities and agencies and asking what are we supposed to do and we are endeavouring to do such, painstakingly.
We are currently embarking on an expansion program and we have certain challenges too. We also have certain bottlenecks. But, I won’t want to elaborate on that.
Recently, our operation was shut down in error. But the shipyard has since opened and running optimally.
From inception till date, we’ve brought over 800 ships into our yard; some from within the country and some from outside the country. In recent months, the navy has been tucking their ships in one after the other in our yards satisfactorily. We are constantly receiving commendation from various bodies and institutions.
We ensure you cannot leave the yard until we confirm your satisfaction!
We are doing it right and the Shipyard is a 100 percent Nigerian company that needs to be supported and encouraged; not discouraged and killed.
We are creating job opportunities, and all our workers are happy. The administration of Buhari is saying create job opportunities. Government is desirous to see everything being done the right way. That is what the Government wants. That is what we are doing!
The President wants the institutional platforms to assist in growing indigenous operations; in solving economic and employment challenges.
So I think we are doing our best. And there are evidences that shows that what we are doing is right.
To Be Continued