We will engage NIMASA to enforce Cabotage to the later if elected NISA President-Omatseye


Temisan Omatseye is the former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and a Presidential Candidate in the forthcoming Nigerian Ship owners Association (NISA) election. In this interview with our Correspondent, he bares his mind on his administration as NIMASA DG and his agenda for NISA if elected President. Excerpt;

I understand you are gunning for the presidency of NISA, what informed the decision to run for the office sir?

Well, yes I decided to run for that office, the informing of my decision is that I have always been a member of when it was ISAN, long before during our days of pursuing cabotage and thereafter I was still a member until I became the DG of NIMASA and when I stepped out, the company which I was operating became a member and I was a member and we participated in all the activities, thereafter when Chief Jolapamo decided that it was time for him to stand down, I thought it wise for me to step into his shoes, that’s the reason why because I felt that I have two perspective in the shipping industry as an administrator and also as an aquintal.

Going by the number of people jostling for that position, what do you think makes you the best candidate, what place you first among every other contestant?

Well interestingly, if you understand ship-owning. Ship-owning is booked into several segments. If you look at a ship-owner, you see a ship-owner as a tanker owner, that is what most people will tell you, that a ship-owner is a tanker owner and they are the ones that have tankers and everything else. But if you look at what is happening in Nigeria, because of the issues, a lot of people are not abiding by the laws, you find out that the offshore operators have come up because of oil and gas position within the industry. So what you find out is that they are two segments of the industry, well they are more than two segments, offshore operators, there are the tanker operators and the fishing trawlers operators and off course the on shore operators that work in the smaller vessels. And there is going to be the dredgers, they are ship-owners as well.

So right now if you look at those of us that are gunning for the position, on one side there is a tanker operator, the other side there is a offshore operator, and on my side, I provide, both sides, am an offshore operator and tanker operator as well, I have both perspectives, I have a better understanding of the offshore operators perspective and also I have a very good understanding of the tanker owner perspective. So I do carry both aspects in addition to understanding the way administration of maritime policies operates as well.

Okay sir, if elected, what is the first most important task that you would solve?

The first task is that ship owners are suffering, why they are suffering is that one, they do not have business, and they do not have business because basically there are a lot of issues: (1) Government institutions are basically circumventing the law rather than first giving them the right of first refusal. (2) Nigerian ship-owners, they are basically engaging foreign flag vessels at the detriments of Nigerian flag vessels. One of the key thing I need to do very quickly most especially for tanker operators is to see how quickly we can move the issue of getting STS operations which are being done presently in Lome, and make it to be done here in Lagos. So that the mother vessels are coming here, and the STS operations are done here in Lagos, so that only Nigerian flag vessels can operate those things. Right now because of some policies, which I believe is due to their own understanding but which they found out is aligned with people to circumvent the law has allowed CBN to create a policy that is allowing foreign vessels to berth at Lome. So what we are trying to do is to see how we can get CBN to change that policy, more those vessels to Nigeria. And that is one of the things that are going to be very key to me in the first instance.

The second instance as well is also going to be key to me is the issue of these waivers; one needs to first of all ensure that the foreign flag vessels operating in Nigeria, are operating within the ambience of the law. Before I began to even consider to contest the position of President of NISA, my company was the one that went and engaged and took NNPC to court for the interpretation of the cabotage act, and I can tell you categorically that 100 percent of all the foreign flag vessels that are presently operating in Nigeria are operating illegal, so we would also bring this to light, one of the things we would do is that we are going to engage NIMASA on ensuring the enforcement of the cabotage to the latter. That is what is going to also help the offshore operators, and on the issue of waivers, we are going to also try and put a position in place that works in Indonesia to ensure that any waiver that is going to be granted, there must be a clearance from the Nigerian ship-owners first before waivers are granted because Nigerian ship-owners can provide those vessels.

So we expect them to approach we the Nigerian ship-owners to tell us whether we are in a position or whether we have those kind of vessels in our fleets and if not, within what period can we produce these vessels, and it is based on our telling them what period should the waivers be granted to any foreign flag vessels to work within that period, if it is three months or six months so be it, and after that the expectations is that our members should be able to provide that vessel to replace whatever foreign flag vessels that has been used as a store camp.

Sir, during your tenure as DG NIMASA, what significant thing can you point out to say that the indigenous ship-owners benefited from your administration as a member and also a government official at that level?

Well, I appointed the PLI’s; the PLI’s that were there were actually appointed before primary lending institutions we gave that. But also remember the eighteen months that I was there, I built up the cabotage vessel fund from $30 million to $40 million. So I made sure that money that was available to buy their vessels was also increased. But many of the things we tried to do also, they were quite a few administrative issues. The challenge we faced was the issue of understanding what shipping is all about. I am a shipping person, I understand shipping. I know what it’s all about. We implemented cabbotage and interestingly I am a lawyer as well, I have the perspective of both the legal aspect of maritime law and the operational aspect because I have been involved in the operations. I love doing logistics and shipping, that is what I am. Moving cargo from A to B is what I know best.

But then, when you come into an environment which at that time NMA has just moved to become NIMASA, and the people that were there were just general employees, it was just a forty-forty-twenty contact code, cargo sharing situation and then all of a sudden you lumber them with this kind of situation. When you have people there who do not actually understand what the essence of cabotage is.

Now what we were trying to do that time was that we were trying to first of all restructure, if you don’t have people that understands your vision, you cannot drive your vision. So my focus then was to restructure the agency, while we are trying to do our job, doing IMO and doing all kinds of things, we are trying to restructure then. If we had gotten to that level we had set up a job description procedural issues and everything was been done quietly, once that have been done, right now it would have been easy for us to enforce cabbotage because any vessels that docks, a cabbotage officer would be on board, documentation would be checked and anyone that fails we would kick them out. And we are also taking issues of patrolling of our waters. So these were the things that we were doing, you may not see it, you know look at many countries today you find out that it’s a ladder system, it’s a step system you have to build on each ladder, once you don’t lay the foundation you cannot move to the next level.

Now it is on record that most of your members are no longer doing any business, and are also indebted to many banks and many institutions. How do you think you can assist to turn their situation around when elected?

The bottom line is that the vessels that are operating in Nigeria are being operated by foreign tankers, and basically they are making money. And the reason, why they are making money is that they are circumventing our laws. So the first thing we need to do is to begin to get them to get the contracts, but in addition to that, once the contract comes in, and the banks are able to see cash flow, the vessels will come, there are vessels available. I get a thousand and one emails from people offering vessels just to make a down payment and then pay over a long period of time. Now if we are able to manage the CVFF fund properly with the kind of structure which they are looking at in NIMASA right now, a real ship-owner does not need cash, he doesn’t need cash to go and buy a vessel, what a real ship-owner needs is a vessel, to run a vessel and then therefore pay for that, and also have a contract to operate that vessel.

And they are enough business, our pipeline are not operational so products are being moved right now from Lagos or Lome where ever it is right now to Port-Harcourt to Calabar. In addition to that we would do things properly, we are Nigerians, we are patriots.

A Nigerian would rather find a way for him to harness the vessel for him to come in and discharge quickly rather than sit down outside and earn demurrage. A foreign ship-owner knows that if he brings a foreign flag vessel to Nigeria he has to go back on ballast, he has to go back empty. So what he does is that he would rather spend as much time here in getting demurrage to cover the cost of him going back, whereas a Nigerian ship-owner would rather say I want to discharge this product because I need to go and pick up another product, because he knows that he is moving within the environs of Nigeria. So what we need to do is to begin to get our Nigerian ship-owners to begin to get unhindered afreightment then we support them to begin to buy the right kind of vessels, we will aim to see that we need to renew the fleets, the Nigerian fleets so that we don’t have vessels older than 5 years. So any Nigerian that wants to buy a vessel should rather buy a new vessel or vessels that are not older than five years. Once we put that together, then you begin to see the Nigerian fleet begin to grow, we begin to grow a local cabotage which is Nigerian cabotage. We will draw a regional cabotage and do a continental cabotage, then we can begin to do the international business, there is enough to take care of everybody.

We are importing rice; we are importing wheat and many other kinds of things. We are importing flour or wheat’s for them to make flour but guess what, none of that is being carried by Nigerian flag vessel, why is it that containers are coming in and out discharging them in Apapa ports, the roads are being congested, container cannot leave, why can’t they not discharge in Apapa ports and Nigeria ship-owners have another container vessels that moves them to other ports, and so we will reduce the pressure we are putting on our roads, you have to go down the roads, we travel the roads constantly, the road is terrible, we thank God that at least from Ore to Benin is better now, but the road is terrible why because they are putting pressure, tankers are going there, everything are going there.

There is no reason why you cannot have an offshore storage and Nigeria flag vessels will pick up these and begin to disperse them so that it reduce the pressure on Apapa. So these are the things we need to do, we need to make government realize that we have to create an efficient system. Do you know it is more expensive to move cargo from offshore Lagos into Lagos than it is to bring a cargo abroad into Nigeria. These are logistical challenges; those are cost burdens we are facing, that are where it is going. The problem we have with the fuel subsidy and I can say that categorically is their inefficiency in the logistics system, the bottle necks, once you create a road block, you immediately creates a toll. So what is happening is that you are creating road blocks, there are bottlenecks which means in everybody trying to circumvent the system, try to get my vessel first they happen to safe somebody, so that they can jump the queue, and guess what, the queue is still building up whether we like it or not, because those products must come and discharge. You chatter a vessel for ten days but the vessel is spending twenty five to thirty days, who is paying that cost that is the cost which is being added to petroleum products that the government is subsiding. If you create a more efficient system, remove the subsidy, you will see the logistics price will go down.

Nigerian ship-owners needs to realize that it is better to bring your vessel to discharge and we as ship-owners will time the vessels, we will do what is called a vessel tracking system, so that every vessel coming in, comes in on time, so that as you are coming in, discharging, you are leaving. And also the issue of product theft, we will change all that, put digital flow meters in all the vessels, so that every vessel that is receiving bunkers of fuel, we will know what you are receiving and at what time you are receiving so that our masters and our captains are not continue to become thieves on board our vessels. That is that challenge. And then we deal on the issue of security. We the owners would talk to our masters to be the eyes and the ears of every activity going on in the high sea, the Navy cannot patrol everywhere but our vessels are moving everywhere, so as vessel owners, we should be able to say radio in or send a text message that there is so and so vessel which is not supposed to be here, send it back to the NISA portal, said that communication so that the Navy can engage that vessel. So we have to work in collaboration with the Navy and us ship-owners for us to secure our waters, protect our trawling business. Foreign trawlers are coming in here; they are doing a sweep on our waters.

We don’t have what you call a fish storage area that is what NISA supposed to work with government to create. KLT II should be a place where they do their fishing, they come there and everybody knows that it is a fishing terminal. We need to set up a fishing terminal so that we can reduce the cost of food, reduce the importation of dry fish. Why should a foreign trawler come to Nigerian waters take all the fish to Europe, and we go to Europe to import the fish back into Nigeria, it doesn’t make sense.

Ok sir, let me take you back to your administration as DG NIMASA then, I understand that during your tenure you signed an agreement with a South African firm that was supposed to build a ship here in Nigeria, that project today seems to have collapsed?

Let me actually tell you what happened, the South African ship yards, there is a Navy dock yard in South Africa in Durban, they were interested in building ships in Nigeria, now at that time I personally was interested I only give them 36 hours it was the first time I went to South Africa. We arrived there at 5:00am and they put me on connecting flight 8:00am to port Elizabeth they took me on that flight there, I arrived there at about 10, went into the hotel had a bit of shower, and by twelve o’clock, we were in the ship yard, inspecting the ship yard, we did everything by 6 or 7 we had dinner slept and the next morning eight o’clock we were on a plane back to Johannesburg and back to Nigeria. So I was in South Africa for 36 hours that was how it happened.

And this was a company that wanted to come to Nigeria. I was working then in collaboration with the Nigerian Navy, the plan was for Nigerian Navy to give them the navy dockyard here. We were also exploring the possibility of using another dockyard, the IWD dockyard in Warri and also possibly the Navy dockyard in Port-Harcourt for them to lease, in order to take over and operate it. So they had come in and then inspected and given us their report and then read it, they had already gotten the South African development fund to raise money to support this project unfortunately, the Navy renegade, I don’t know why and the place is dying now. By now if they had allowed that happen, right now we would have been building ships here.

The reason quiet clearly is this, Singapore doesn’t produce one thing, but what they import the CKD and all they do they just have welders. We would have had enough welders being trained on how to lay keels and how to build vessels. We will bring everything at least for the first five years. Then as people begin to see what it is, those manufactures will begin to come here because they are building harbor tugs.

NPA doesn’t have harbor tugs. Those guys were willing to build harbor tugs here n Nigeria, but unfortunately I brought them in kick started it BOI was ready to put money into it to support them, South African development cooperation were also ready to put money into it, because the South African government was going to support them with some funding because they were coming in here. We would have kicked off within two-three months, but the Navy renegade. I don’t know what happened, and still nobody has gone there, I have told them, there is no dockyard that is being run by the Navy, if you go to Ghana they have privatized it, Malaysia they have privatized it South African they have privatized it, everywhere and ours they are sitting on their glory, and with all due respect, on their glory, and with all due respect, it on lost glory.

It’s time for the Nigerian Navy to move out of the dockyard and let private sector begin to run that thing, then negotiate with them that when your vessel needs to be fixed, let us fix it on a first refusal basis which means we will give them first priority, but then that now allows the Nigerian Navy to have a maintenance plan.

There is no reason why the dockyard should not be walking away with a minimum of $1 million a month, it’s a business sense, and there is no reason why that can’t happen.




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