Engr. Emmanuel Ilori is the Second 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 The News Diet, Emmanuel Ilori speaks on a wide range of maritime sector issues including; seaports, ship acquisition, seafaring, inland waterways challenges, politics and more. Enjoy it:
How can Nigeria shorten vessel turnaround time at seaports to compete with neighbouring ports averaging 6-7days while Lagos ports take about 10days?
There are numerous issues that elongate the turnaround time of vessels at Nigerian ports. It starts from the number of agencies statutorily responsible for the clearance of vessels when they enter the nation’s ports.
We have to identify the agencies that go onboard vessels, what type of cargoes the vessels are bringing in, as well as the size. These are varying factors and until we create an ease of doing business at the ports to ensure there is minimal interference in shipping operations, people would continue to prefer competitive ports in neighbouring countries.
Another important factor will be to address the unnecessary bureaucracies at the ports to have shorter turnaround time of vessels.
These are trying times for seafarers globally since the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. From the point of view of Mission to Seafarers (MTS) Lagos, what’s your advice to seafarers?
MTS Lagos serves seafarers who are coming from various parts of the world and the goal of the body is to provide succour to seafarers who need mental, physical and spiritual assistance.
When you look at the Ukraine and Russia crisis from the perspective of seafarers, these are people that work together onboard vessels from that area. There is no difference between Russian and Ukrainian seafarers. This is actually the beauty of seafaring because we don’t see nationality but a group united workers to provide the much-needed service for global trade.
The MTS centre in Lagos is still being developed because we understand the import of seafaring and the need to prioritize their well-being and welfare. We played a crucial role during the most difficult COVID-19 times and we would continue to do all that’s necessary to support seafarers who ensure that international trade continues against all odds.
Availability of ships is crucial to seafaring development. This is an area that remains a huge challenge in Nigeria. What’s your take on policies that would encourage indigenous ship ownership?
The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited are beginning to provide the necessary support for indigenous ship ownership to thrive. However, this is just the starting point. It’s a good thing that NNPC has seen the need to work with indigenous operators and I pray that this synergy becomes the norm.
As NIMASA also comes to realization of growing indigenous shipping, what we would observe is that as more Nigerians are responsible for cargoes coming in and going out of the country, there will be greater opportunities for seafarers in the nation.
We have learnt that new vessels will attract zero Customs duties and this is a good development. When you look at the aviation sector, you will find that airlines have been enjoying this privilege and several extras for years. The same thing should apply for merchant vessels so that we can grow the nation’s tonnage.
It is important to note that this country, with over 200million people, depends on trade in and out to be able to compete economically and provide the necessary requirements for the citizens.
Meanwhile, there is also a need to encourage indigenous operators to employ Nigerian seafarers. Shipping is in dire need of recognition and development in Nigeria because ship owners and seafarers haven’t been prioritized over the years.
In less than eight months Nigeria will be having general elections, what’s your advice to maritime operators and other business persons?
As we prepare for the 2023 general elections, I have observed that there is yet to be a realization of the importance of maritime to Nigeria’s economy. If we are truly going to begin to address key issues in the sector, our politicians must have keen interest in the development of the maritime segment of the nation’s economy.
Developed nations rely heavily on their maritime trade to be effective. We can look at European nations like; Netherlands, Belgium, Russia, Ukraine, etc. They don’t joke with the maritime sector.
As shipping operators or shipping stakeholders we should also be asking questions of them. We should seek to know their plans for the growth of the maritime sector. Politicians should have clear ideas and strategies to address the salient issues in the maritime industry. One of the problems, which have stifled the sector, is that the maritime community doesn’t ask questions about politicians plan for the sector.
With the 2023 election around the corner, it’s time to ask what the politicians have in store for the nation’s maritime sector vis-a-vis how they intend to develop Nigeria’s economy.
In recent weeks, scores have died from boat accidents in Lagos and Niger states. How would you assess the regulation of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), other waterways regulators and the sector itself?
The inland waterways is very critical to the economy and the social well-being of the people. We shouldn’t forget that with over 10,000km of waterways, transport by water could contribute significantly to the growth and stability of the economy. However, we need to ensure the safety of navigation within inland waterways. It requires some crucial infrastructural developments but the nation hasn’t paid sufficient attention to the relevance of inland waterways.
So, there is a need to address the challenges both from technical manpower aspect to the infrastructure developments. There is also the aspect of economic development that should be factored in.
There has been a neglect of the inland waterways as a transport mode and until sufficient attention is paid to this sector the challenges will persist. I think the development will take time but it is achievable.
As Vice President of the Association of Marine Engineers and Surveyors (AMES), can you bring us up to speed with the activities of the association?
Well, AMES isn’t a loud association; it’s more of a technical group. Don’t forget that a ship wouldn’t operate without an engine and engineers. You may not always see the engineers but they continue to support the industry by engaging critical stakeholders and the government.
Over the years the technical dimension of the maritime sector has been neglected. What AMES has been doing in recent years in to raise awareness on the importance of the technical dimension of the maritime industry. The association isn’t too bothered about making noise but engaging the right people to achieve the desired result for the sector and the nation.
AMES has lamented the dearth of skilled Engineers and Surveyors in recent times. What has been done to remedy the situation?
It is still an ongoing challenge; but don’t forget that most of current members of AMES went through a sector where there was availability of foreign going vessels. We were privileged to obtain holistic quality training as defined by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations.
We need to comply with those training requirements and have foreign going vessels so that we can develop the upcoming engineers and surveyors. This is the huge challenge that we have because without ships, where are we going to get the engineers from?