Stakeholders in the industry have faulted the shipping policy on waivers.
They alleged that the policy would hinder the implementation of the Cabotage law. To them, effort is still needed on the part of the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, to prepare the country for challenges in the industry.
Speaking at a forum organised by importers and clearing agents in Lagos last week, Sea Logistics Managing Director, Mr. Rufus Olanipekun, expressed concern that foreign shipping lines would continue to exploit the country because of the selfish interest of a few and lack of a functional shipping policy that identifies the strategic challenges of the maritime sector.
Olanipekun said there had been lapses in enforcing the Cabotage Law and domesticating all international treaties and conventions that relate to the sector.
He expressed displeasure that the Cabotage regime is yet to be implemented to meet the expectations of stakeholders in the industry.
Olanipekun also said there was a gap between the intention of the Act and the system, which is yet to empower indigenous operators to take advantage of the law.
The performance of the Federal Government on trade facilitation, high port charges, infrastructure, safety at sea, protection of the marine environment and enhancement of maritime law and security, Olanipekun said, falls below expectation, adding that the ports are performing below expectation.
He said the Federal Government needed to do more to reduce piracy and armed robbery on the waterways.
Olanipekun said foreign shipping companies are still dominating the nation’s maritime industry to the detriment of local ship owners.
Another stakeholder and Chairman, JM Investment, Mr James Joseph, said conspiracy hinders the Cabotage Law implementation.
He said its implementation would have been easier, but for conspiracy between some past officials of the Ministry of Transport and foreign ship owners.
Joseph said the law could be easily implemented if the Minister of Transport musters enough political will to do so.
“The Minister of Transport needs to see to the full implementation of the Cabotage law before he leaves office. We are aware that some individuals within and outside the government are trying to frustrate the implementation.
“My suggestion to the minister is that he should make sure every ship that calls at the nation’s ports should first declare arrival to the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), NIMASA and the Navy. By doing so, it would become easier to implement the law,” he said.
Poor policy implementation, he said, is the bane of the sector.
“No government agency needs to go to the jetty to arrest a ship. NIMASA, for instance, can ask any ship to tell her its point of loading. So, if it is offshore Lagos or offshore Cotonou, the agency can then verify if it is on the list of Cabotage registered vessels. Therefore, if the Minister is determined, implementation should not be a problem.”
Joseph said Nigerian ship owners must be supported with good policies by the government and banks so they can buy vessels to carry out coastal trade.
The Coastal and Inland Shipping Act, 2003, he said, is a protectionist law enacted to create exclusive areas of operation in the coastal trade for indigenous operators.
“Much as it is estimated that marine transportation offshore alone has a potential annual revenue/profit of millions of naira as against coastal trade in commodity and products, it is believed that harnessing the opportunities of effective implementation of Cabotage will provide a springboard for indigenous operators to acquire requisite capacity and expertise in launching them into global shipping.
“The target is for Nigerian carriers to have a share of about $4.5 billion per annum gross value of freight in and out of Nigeria. Only 20 per cent share of the market will stimulate the local economy to the tune of about $600 million gross per annum,” Joseph said.
The Cabotage regime, he said, covers ship building, ship ownership, manning and registration. Unlike the Cabotage Law in most maritime countries, Nigeria’s Cabotage law provides for waivers, he said.
Indigenous operators, according to him, have complained that the waiver clause has helped make implementation of the law difficult, inefficient and faulty.