Published On: Thu, Jul 9th, 2015

In-fighting among ship owners takes shines off 2015 NIMAREX

…as major stakeholders boycott annual event

The internal bickering which has polarized the hitherto unified body of indigenous ship owners has finally caught up the annual Nigerian Maritime Expo (NIMAREX), the 2015 edition which was held in Lagos.

The annual workshop, where both local and foreign investors in the industry, converge to share ideas, was initiated five years ago by the indigenous ship owners, in partnership with major government agencies in the maritime industry.

Whereas the preceding editions could pass off as being a success in terms of attendance, participation and achieved objectives, the 2015 edition was a total fiasco.

Curiously, the ship onwers, who are conveners of the annual rituals, were conspicuously absent at the event.

At least, Captain Labinjo, the President of Nigerian Ship Owners Association(NISA) was absent. Those who shunned the annual jamboree included the Chairman NIMAREX 2015, former Head of States, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd) who was to chair the opening ceremony, Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Transport; Alhaji Mohammed Bashir.

Concerned industry experts lamented the turn of event which they blamed on the divided house of the ship owners.

It would be recalled that immediately after the elections which ushered in Captain Niyi Labinjo as the president of NISA, some aggrieved persons, especially those who lost the election, cried fouls and challenged the results. When they lost at the association’s election tribunal, some of them staged a walk out and formed a parallel association.

Notable among the aggrieved members who dumped the association was Engr. Greg Ogbeifun, who incidentally heads the splinter group called Shipowners Association of Nigeria (SOAN).

As if that was not enough, the alleged ship purchase scandal involving Captain Labinjo further polarized NISA when some members asked the president to step aside in order to clear his name.

Another group loyal to Labinjo insisted that he still remains the president, thus creating two factional presidents within the association.
It was during this confused scenario in the body of ship owners that the 2015 edition of NIMAREX took place.

The effect of the rancor among the indigenous operators was not lost on the Director –General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Dr. Patrick Ziakede Akpobolokemi who blamed the poor attendance on the crisis currently rocking NISA.

Akpobolokemi, who was represented by the Executive Director of Maritime Labour and Cabotage Services, Barrister Calistus Nwabueze, urged the shipowners to close ranks and speak with one voice, while assuring that the Federal Government has shown interest in implementing the Cabotage Act.

Akpobolokemi hinted that the much-awaited disbursement of Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) might take place any moment from now, assuring that the Ministry of Transport is currently showing renewed interest on vessel acquisition.

’’This is not the type of event that we envisaged, we expect to see all the shipowners who come to NIMASA to register their vessels, the core practitioners are not here, you need to reach out to them and make them identify with NIMAREX and other critical programme which NIMASA organised so that together we can build the sector better than it is today’’, NIMASA chief stated.

‘’I want to also say that it is very important that we forge unity within NISA, the shipowners, it is only when you are united that you can attract the attention of government, not when you are speaking in discordant tunes’’

‘’Presently, there is a very serious effort by the Federal Ministry of Transport to look into the operational difficulties we are having in the implementation of Cabotage Act and emphasis is being placed on developing indigenous vessel acquisition capacity.

The NIMASA boss urged shipowners to identify with this newly-found passion of the ministry so that in few months, they will begin to see positive results.

However, participants at the event said development and growth of the sector will depend on capacity building and professionalism.

Capt. Saib Olopoenia, the President of the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners(NAMM), said the issue of well- qualified personnel to manage the industry was critical to its sustainable development.

He said that the Maritime Academy of Nigeria(MAN) in Oron, Akwa Ibom, lacked the capacity to produce seafarers of international standard since they could not give the cadets seatime training.

“The right training makes a seafarer marketable to the world, but the maritime academy does not give the cadets the required seatime training.

“It is seen that a number of youths are eager to become seafarers, but what about the right training for them?” he noted.

According to the NAMM President, Nigeria at the present has about 10,000 seafarers, which he said was inadequate to run the nation’s maritime industry.

He said Nigeria could however make huge economic gains and impact just like the Philippines does through seafarers development and export that rakes in as much as $4.6 billion annually.
Rev. Jonathan Nicole, the President of the Shippers Association of Lagos State, said the Nigerian cadets could begin to get seatime training only when the shipowners acquire vessels.

Nicole, however, said that it would take the stakeholders coming together to set up a fund that would be geared towards vessel financing.

“We can train our seafarers in the requisite seatime, so, I challenge stakeholders to come together to set up a fund to enable us acquire vessels over time.”

Eugene Nweke, the President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, also said that capacity building in all sub-sectors of the maritime industry remained critical.

He said it was sad to see that young officers still lacked seatime experience, which is a requirement for international standard.

The Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Barr. Hassan Bello, observed that port operators are operating under an extreme difficult condition.

“Government must provide environment necessary for the growth of the maritime industry because investors are operating under an unfavourable climate. There is no power for terminal operators to power their operations; the access roads to the port need improvement.

“It is the duty of all of us to make it clear to the government that this is the time for them to step in comprehensively so that the maritime, shipping and transport industry will respectably contribute to the national economy. I think this is what NIMAREX is all about.”, Bello observed.

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