Engr. Godspower Ovie Ogiso is the Dockyard Manager, Niger-Benue Transport Company Limited. NBTC is one of the pioneer vessel repair and chartering company in Nigeria. In this exclusive chat with The News Diet, Godspower dissects the nation’s shipping industry with emphasis on ship building. He identifies the emerging markets, recurring challenges and modest successes in indigenous ship building operations.
Tell us about NBTC
NBTC has been in existence for more than 60 years. We started as a transportation and logistics company that later mertamophosed into ship building. Our venture into ship repair and ship building was initially sparked by the need to service our vessels. We observed that the entire shipping community lacked shipyards and decided to yield to this need. That was how we ventured into fabrication, ship repair and ship building.
Presently, at NBTC shipyard in Warri, we fabricate, build and repair vessels. We have a Floating Dock of about 450 tons capacity which takes vessels for repairs and maintenance. We also have a sleep way, a Derick crane used to pick vessels from the water to the slip way for maintenance.
Ship fabrication is building vessels from the scratch and this is also carried out by NBTC. We have built some boats for the Lagos State Government, about 3 passenger boats and we also built the floating clinic for Lagos State. These vessels are currently being operated on Lagos waterways. So, if you need a good shipyard that would provide quality crafts or somewhere to efficiently service your vessels, you can be sure to get that at NBTC.
We are also strategically situated in Warri, at a location where we share fence with Premium Steel and Mines Limited, formerly known as Delta Steel Company (DSC), Aladja.
In Nigeria’s shipping sector, one of the biggest development in recent times has been the utilization of barges which have been responsible for over 3 million TEUs at Lagos ports. With increasing need for barges, can NBTC play a role by building barges?
As service providers, NBTC is excited that the need for barge operations is increasing because we can provide these barges by building them. It is very important to utilize other modes of transport for cargo evacuation from the seaports and barges provide this opportunity which helps reduce the burden on the roads and the consequent congestion.
In recent times, we have built barges for about three companies. The only challenge that we face is the cost of raw materials. Today, a steel plate costs over a million naira. We also have to get electrons and other items that turn out to be costly. Nevertheless, fabricating these barges and vessels in Nigeria is better off than the option of importation.
You mentioned that your office shares fence with the former Delta Steel Company, in Aladja. Was that a strategic move to be closer to raw materials and how did the decision aid your operations?
Having our office in close proximity to the steel company was strategic but we haven’t been able to harness this opportunity. This is because the steel industry in Nigeria hasn’t been functioning optimally. The arrangement was that by default the company would be milling out steel for our ship building activities. However, we couldn’t enjoy this because most of our steel plates are imported from Ukraine and this makes it more expensive.
A functional and vibrant steel production industry in Nigeria would make it much easier for ship building and repairs in the country.
At NBTC, we have the expertise and facilities to meet Nigeria’s shipping needs with regards building ships, barges and boats.
With your floating dock located in Warri, have you lost businesses on account of security concerns?
Presently, we have a calm situation and this peace is seen in all aspects of the Niger Delta. When ships come to Port Harcourt or Warri to do their repairs, the major constraint is the port charges. This is because ships coming in and those going out pay for green light which allows them access. This charge is collected by Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
How has the Russia-Ukraine war affected the supply of steel plates for your operations with the raw materials coming from Ukraine?
We have only few materials coming in from Ukraine and too many people are going for these materials. Consequently, the excess demand leads to high costs of the products thereby increasing the rates of our services.
The Lekki Deep Seaport project is expected to handle huge cargo traffic, even as it houses the Dangote Refinery. Barge operations will be needed to evacuate some of these cargoes and this is possibly a business opportunity for your company. Do you have plans via partnerships for these projects?
We already have a working relationship with Dangote Group because we do operations for BMS which handles major contracts for Dangote via barging. We use our tugboats to push their barges and provide other services for BMS for Dangote cargoes.
However, the Lekki Deep Seaport and Dangote Refinery are good developments for maritime and oil and gas sectors in the country. There will be huge opportunities across these sectors from these projects and NBTC is willing and ready to partner with operators who will require ship building or barge building services.
How would you rate the regulatory environment for barge operations in Nigeria, especially with accidents leading to loss of assets and allegations of double taxation by regulatory agencies?
The challenge with the regulators is that they aren’t effective. The essence of regulation is to ensure safety of the operations. Although nobody prays for accidents, they could happen sometimes; however you will find that the causes of recent barge accidents can be linked to regulatory flaws and non-compliance by operators.
I’ll admonish the regulators to deploy a carrot and stick method in the administration of barging activities. The waterways also have to be dredged so that vessels and barges don’t have to run aground. These are all regulatory functions.