Engr. Emmanuel Ilori is the Vice President of the Association of Marine Engineers and Surveyors (AMES). He is also the Assistant Chaplain of the Mission To Seafarers (MTS) Lagos. In this exclusive chat with News Diet, he speaks on several pertinent issues in the nation’s shipping sector. Enjoy it:
There are concerns about Nigeria losing veteran Marine Engineers who are being poached by global shipping giants. This complaint was recently made by the NLNG Ship Management Limited, who are one of the biggest indigenous employers of shipping professionals. What’s your take on this?
Let’s correct this perception because these Nigerians leaving the country is credit to the nation. It is good for the country that professionals that have reached the highest standards are being recognized on the global stage. The profession is a global one and it is a plus to the country that its professionals are sought-after by top global players in shipping.
At the lower end, however, we still have a challenge because of the trainings. For instance, there is an IMO (International Maritime Organization) requirement that governs the training and it’s not just STCW, but other resolutions to govern professional certification for Marine Engineers and people who do the top-end work in the industry. So, when we have Nigerians who have attained that level, they are admired all over the world and we find such people in IMO, classification societies and big shipping companies. I think that the problem is that we don’t have enough Nigerians attaining such heights in the profession.
What should be the concern in Nigeria should be having a succession plan for younger professionals so that there is continuous flow of quality professionals. This was one of the concepts we had in mind when we developed the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) because I was part of those who developed it. We needed to have a long pool of competent young Nigerians to grow and occupy senior global positions. That’s how Indians developed manpower in this area.
NLNG is training the workforce to a level where they are now being admired by major players in the global stage. But while NLNG might feel that it’s losing some of its best hands, as a nation it is to our advantage because this means there are more Nigerians that can help with knowledge-transfer and more Nigerians that can occupy maritime technical and strategic positions globally and regionally. I’m aware that classification societies are constantly looking for Nigerians that they can train and employ.
Over the years, AMES has been trying to bridge the gap created by dearth of competent Marine Engineers and Surveyors. What’s the situation today?
This need to develop competent professionals is still a challenge. It is also a problem somewhat linked to the financial institutions because the bankers don’t have advisers or members of staff who understand the technicality and operations of the maritime sector. I would say that this is one of the major challenges confronting the sector because the banks provide the financial backing for operators in the sector to absorb more manpower. Nevertheless, we have a system where banks don’t even have advisors that can guide them on shipping investments.
The Lekki Deep Seaport has an impending logistics challenge as there’s no rail connection and the roads will be congested if utilized as the major mode for cargo evacuation. What opportunities do you see for barge operations and short-sea shipping?
Well, the development of the deep seaports can’t be total without the development of the inland waterway transport. A big seaport like Lekki will handle millions of tons of cargoes and we can’t rely on the roads alone to support cargo evacuation. We have God-given inland waterways network that covers 28 states of the nation. This is a huge potential that we should be developing. We should ensure that the waterways are navigable and proper barges are utilized.
However, for the use of barges, I would advise that we don’t forget to develop the technical aspect of the business. We can take Rotterdam as an example. There is a good network of inland waterways. The big ships arrive and the cargoes are dispersed through smaller vessels and that is a multi-billion dollar business.
China has also done something similar by taking their industries away from the land to coastal areas and developments especially big industries, are spread along the waterways and riverine communities. This strategy also helps easy evacuation of products via the waterways. Nigeria needs to deploy the same strategy for its deep seaports and not just Lekki. However, we shouldn’t even have too many deep seaports because that will also pose new challenges.
In Nigeria, we have most of the industries situated on the roads. We shouldn’t spend billions to develop roads and have trailers and tankers destroy these roads in few years. The roads have become death traps with safety hazards but the waterways can drastically reduce this burden and accidents.
One barge tanker could take about 100 road tankers off the roads. One container barge or river vessel could take 100 containers away from the roads and make operations safer. This should be the approach in Nigeria, not only for now but also for the future.
Decaying port infrastructure is a challenge at Tin Can Island Port, Warri Port, Onne Port, among others; but terminal operators have expressed willingness to fix them for a rebate. Would you subscribe to this move especially as the federal government has limited funds for such investments?
Some of these challenges have affected the optimal performance of the respective seaport terminals and I think it would be fine to allow the concessionaires fix them. However, this shouldn’t add to the cost of using such ports by way of new charges or increase in tariffs. The concern is that when these operators are allowed to fix such infrastructural deficits Nigerians will have to pay for it. Don’t forget that this country already has a very high cost for cargo handling. If NPA, as the landlord can’t develop that, then there should be an arrangement on how the terminal operators get rebate from NPA without introducing additional charges.
The terminal operators have a duty to maintain the terminals, but some of these challenges are things the landlord, NPA, should be responsible for. The ordinary Nigerian citizen shouldn’t be made to suffer additional costs on account of this.
There are several ship wrecks along Nigerian inland waterways but this also creates opportunities for ship breaking and recycling. Should the nation make efforts to grow investments in the enterprise?
For over a long period, Nigeria has become the source of reception of substandard vessels and when other countries were trying to improve their flag state control, they used the opportunity to dump obsolete vessels in Nigeria. Another challenge is that it becomes very expensive to move old vessels to the global centres of ship recycling.
It is also pertinent to note that ship recycling has become a global concern even at the IMO. This is because ships have to be recycled to a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. A country like Bangladesh used to be at the forefront of ship recycling but it was discovered that the risks to life from the recycling facilities were too high. So, even though there is a business there, the safety aspects of it is something that the global community is concerned about.
Before Nigeria delves into ship recycling activities, as it has become an embarrassment to have millions of tons as wrecks all over the inland waterways, we have to be sure the arrangement is environmentally sound, sustainable and complies with global standards. I’m not sure we have the standards for ship recycling in Nigeria and this is important because other nations could use Nigeria as a bad example for the practice while they show their compliance levels when lobbying for a seat at the IMO Governing Council.
Ship recycling is an area with immense opportunities for Nigeria and the nation’s reliance on steel is massive. It could also affect the country’s reputation as a shipping nation and it poses threat to Nigerian citizens via pollution to the environment and distorted ship recycling methods. It is a very risky business. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was one of the reasons Bangladesh was kicked out of the IMO Council.
As a maritime stakeholder, what’s your 2023 outlook for the Nigerian maritime sector?
Nigeria is a maritime nation, but I’m yet to see in the political discuss of the top parties anyone who identified the relevance of the maritime sector to the nation’s economic development. This is very sad, especially with 28 states having well-connected coastal lines. How would short-sea shipping add value to Nigeria? How would the country play a role in shipping across the Atlantic coast in the sub-region?
There is a significant business in the maritime sector that requires fiscal intervention but are the financial institutions ready to take advice and take advantage. We have seen in the past that financial institutions have been responsible for some of the setbacks in the nation’s shipping sector. This is because a lot of bad loans in shipping have been results of financial institutions not taking advice from shipping experts or bankers simply getting involved in sharp practices.
The maritime sector stands on a tripod with the political dimension, the financial dimension and the technical dimension. We can’t ignore any of the three and have a thriving maritime sector. At the moment, Nigeria isn’t giving sufficient attention to any of these core dimensions. Until we address these dimensions which holds the maritime industry, the sector would continue to be ridden with problems.
The anxiety around the disbursement of Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF) has dwindled as it seems the Primary Lending Institutions (PLIs) aren’t enthusiastic to bring their 35% stake. What is really stalling the disbursement?
Nigeria copied the American Jones Act which was developed at a point in time when America already had an established local shipping sector. The problem they had was that they weren’t getting business for the locally built vessels. In Nigeria, do we have the capacity to build the vessels for the local business. If we don’t have the capacity, we would still need to build the vessels elsewhere. We should have developed the indigenous capacity for both ship building and ship acquisition before the Cabotage Act.
Let’s look at the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) which has a similar arrangement with the Nigerian Content Intervention (NCI) Fund; but they made sure that there is a technical development of the industry and Nigerian businesses are cropping up to support the oil and gas sector.
There is a need to revisit the technical dimensions of the CVFF to ensure that it can stand on its own. If we want to build vessels in-country, let’s develop the industry and if we have to import we should ensure that there are measures to not kill indigenous ship building operators by patronizing foreign ones. We can buy vessels for local businesses, but we must also ensure that we are in a position to start building those vessels in Nigeria.
Ship building isn’t shrouded in secrecy and as we noted earlier, some of the top Marine Engineers from Nigeria are being recognized all around the world. Let’s engage our technical capacity that will ensure the maritime industry thrives. No one will regard Nigeria in the comity of maritime nations if we are technically substandard.
In 2022, one of the sad incidents for the Nigeria maritime domain was the FPSO Trinity Spirit explosion. What lessons can the industry learn from such incident?
Marine accidents investigation needs to be taken very seriously and things like the FPSO Trinity Spirit explosion shouldn’t just be swept under. Maritime investigation is serious and it has serious interest from government, regional and international players. Information gotten from proper investigation on an incident like the Trinity Spirit could also give Nigeria some global credibility.