Nigerians must acquire more vessels to tackle Seafarers’ unemployment, Ogbeifun tells FG

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Engr. Greg Ogbeifun, SOAN President

…As A-G Malami, Edodo Emore, Consul-General of France, others stressed the need for conducive environment for enhanced shipping operation***

The President, Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Engr. Greg Ogbeifun on Tuesday urged the Federal Government to encourage Nigerians to acquire more ships if the menace of unemployment in the maritime sector would be adequately tackled, and the teaming restive youths significantly engaged, especially now, with the collapse of the MoU between Nigeria and the PIL shipping group of Singapore

The nation’s foremost shipping mogul, Ogbeifun who made the observation at the 2018 Lagos International Maritime Week, which held at the Oriental Hotel, Lekki, Lagos however frowned at the current Nigerian fiscal policy which stipulates that a vessel owner bringing in his ship into the country should first pay a duty charge of 14% of the total cost of the vessel to Customs, and specifically noted that in other developed countries, the reverse is actually the case.

Laurent Polonceaux, the Consul Generale de France; Oritsematosan Edodo-Emore, Chairman, Zoe Maritime Resources Ltd; Mrs Olayinka Oladunjoye, the Honourable Commissioner, Lagos State Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives; Jens- Potter Kjemprud, the Ambassador of Norway, at the International Maritime Week 2018, Oriental Hotel, Tuesday, Lagos.

“The PIL pulled out because the Nigerian Fiscal Policy does not make an establishment where fleet of that nature will be competitive in global trade.

“The fiscal policies are tax laws, tonnage tax laws, and other laws that affect international shipping, and we had to, as a body, appoint a company as consultant to do an international study of what other countries and rulers create, what did they do to be able to establish fleets that are trading globally; and that study revealed that most of those countries first of all, declared zero duty.

“If you are national and you acquire a vessel and you are bringing that vessel into the country, your duty is zero; but in this country, the duty payable on an average if you are bringing in a vessel is about 14% of the value of that vessel, so if you take a vessel of $80m, of crude oil tanker, you pay $80m and then you have to pay another 14% of that to be able to import it into your country because you are flying your flag, and you are going to be competing with the current foreign countries who are carrying your cargo and who didn’t have to pay such duty in their country. Their commercial terms for carrying the cargo will be cheaper than yours, so you cannot be competitive internationally, that is just an example of why PIL said in their writing that Nigeria must review the fiscal policy if they must continue in that relationship”, adding that the duty charges were being paid to “Customs, NPA, all sort of importation cost when you are coming in!”, the Shipping Mogul indicated..

He enjoined the authorities to create a more enabling environment that would not only ensure a level playing field, but also empower the nation’s operators in the shipping sector, the ability to compete, unhindered.

Mrs Olayinka Oladunjoye, the Honourable Commissioner, Lagos State Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives presenting a plaque of Honour to Mr Kofi Mbiah, former Chairman IMO Legal Committee, while Oritsematosan Edodo-Emore, Chairman, Zoe Maritime Resources Ltd watches, at the Occasion.

Engr. Greg identified the major challenges vessels owners face as mostly breakdown maintenance among others, which are frequently also solved through hard currency.

Speaking also on the occasion, the nation’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, called on maritime stakeholders to address security challenges in the sector, stressing that there must be a seriously improved safety situation within the nation’s territorial waters, if enduring development, and progress would be achieved.. He however emphasized that Nigeria, at the moment has no law in place, approving the carriage of private armed guards onboard, wondering who would accept responsibility, in the event that such private armed guards act beyond their mandate.

Speaking on the theme: “Armed Guards Aboard Merchant Vessels in Nigeria -Legal or Illegal”, Malami who was represented by Special Assistant to the President on Financial Crimes, Mr Abiodun Aikomo posited that maritime security has become an important requirement for merchants’ vessels over the last decade due to the increasing threats from pirates across the world. He maintained that the issue of maritime security in the Nigerian territorial waters should be taken seriously.

Mr Kofi Mbiah (Ghana), former Chairman IMO Legal Committee giving a presentation at at the International Maritime Week 2018, Oriental Hotel, Tuesday, Lagos.

“Human beings have the responsibility for self-preservation of their life and limbs and by extension, private properties and investments.

“As to the legality and illegality of armed guards on merchant vessels in Nigeria, the debate should no longer be focused on whether armed guards should be employed. Rather, it should be on how they can effectively, legally and safely be engaged with emphasis on accreditation and accountability.

“In this regard, the United Kingdom and Norway have provided regulations on the use of private guards on-board .

“The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has also announced its change of stance on armed guards. Even though Nigerian- flagged vessels cannot make use of armed private guards as the law stands today.

“The reality is that there must be a dynamic strategy of dealing with security challenges facing merchant vessels in Nigerian waters,” the minister said.

He reasoned that it could be necessary to amend the relevant laws in the long term, adding that there was need for stakeholders to develop a strategy within the scope of power of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in collaboration with other sister agencies.

Also speaking, the Consul-General of France, Mr Laurent Polonceaux, said that Nigeria was surrounded by French- speaking neighbours and also was the largest trading partner of France in West Africa.

Polonceaux said that the business interest of both countries pervaded all segments of economy in the value chain ranging from oil and gas, food and nutrition, pharmaceuticals, security, transportation, logistics and Africa food production.

‘There are also 120 French companies registered in Nigeria, as commercial partnership, direct, acquisition and affiliates.

“If we take a little look of the list of countries by length of coastline to realize that Norway is number two after Canada, while France is number nine.

“France supported the built-up and strengthening of the maritime security architecture decided by the heads of African states during the Yaounde Summit in June 2013.

“Mission Corymbe is a France Navy scheme initiated in 1990, prepositioned in West Africa, which helped to reinforce the capacity of the costal marines of the Gulf of Guinea in the field of maritime safety,” he said.

The Promoter of Lagos International Maritime Week, Mrs. Oritsematosan Edodo-Emore, said the theme of this year event was ” Developing Maritime Infrastructure in Africa””,

Edodo-Emore said that development in the maritime industry in Africa should define the vision for the industry in the continent by seeking international cooperation to actualize the vision.

According to her, it was the responsibility of the country to take advantage of the global shortage of skilled maritime manpower by developing our maritime education and training institutions to produce skilled manpower for continental and global markets.

She said that introduction of youths to the maritime industry was key to the long-term development of maritime manpower in Africa.

In his presentation, the Lagos Commissioner for Transportation, Mr Ladi Lawanson, noted that concerning the development of all modes of transportation, the state government in 2008, established the Lagos State Water Authority (LASWA).

Lawanson, who was represented by Mrs Olufadeke Emmanuel, Technical Assistant to the Commissioner for Transportation, said LASWA was saddled with the responsibility to regulate, develop and manage all aspects of waterways.

The commissioner said that the idea was to ensure growth in ferry services within an integrated public transport system by growing the modal share of the waterways network especially through private participation.

He said that the state had embarked on training of 90 women in recycling of water Hyacinth cleared from the waterways to produce marketable items like key holder, mats and bags in conjunction with Mitimeth a Non- Governmental Organization.

In her goodwill message, the Commissioner for Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives, Mrs. Olayinka Oladunjoye, said that it behooved on them as government and people to commit resources toward the development of requisite supporting infrastructure for the sector.

Oladunjoye said that such infrastructure should include all those activities and facilities that support and enhance the maritime transport sector and make it efficient, productive and environmental- friendly.

She said that Lagos State Government was aware that activities in the maritime industry were under-developed with poor investment returns and funding.

She said that the state government had been promoting the development of Lekki Deep Sea Port in which the state had an equity contribution of 20 per cent; and stressed that for a holistic development of maritime assets, there was need for certain requirements to support the maritime industry.