The year 2020 was a difficult one for the whole of humanity on account of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) that took the world by storm, disrupting lives and livelihoods. Reference to the pandemic in the past tense is in no way suggestive that it has been brought to an end. The world is still battling to contain the virus, especially the Delta variant that is proving difficult to manage, despite the massive deployment of vaccines around the world.
However, despite the disruptive effects of the pandemic, countries have found a way to keep their economies working in order to ensure that life goes on. The situation in Nigeria has not been different. At the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), efforts since 2020 have been directed at advancing and implementing policies and programme to stimulate the growth of the country’s maritime industry in line with its mandate. In specific terms, the agency has been working to strengthen the country’s maritime capacity in the ownership, manning, and construction of sea-going vessels and other infrastructure. It is also working hard to ensure the enforcement of compliance as part of its shipping development strategic agenda.
Among the highlights of NIMASA’s achievements in 2020, in spite of COVID-19, was pursuance of the Three-Point Agenda of the current administration, or “Triple S”, which comprises Maritime Security, Maritime Safety, and Shipping Development.
Despite the pandemic in 2020, a total of 510 port state inspections were carried out, from the 4,728 vessels that called at Nigeria’s waters. This was against the 726 inspections that were carried out the previous year, from the 5,035 ships that called. Notwithstanding the 15% drop, the proof of the Agency’s resilience to still perform her statutory function in a year ravaged thoroughly by the COVID-19 virus is a pointer to her strength in depth and stable capacity to live up to both her statutory responsibilities to the nation and her contractual obligation to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as a Maritime Administration (MARAD).
The agency integrated the use of technology in the verification of Certificates of Competency (CoC). This has led to a significant drop in manual verification. The number of manual verification dropped from 4,112 in 2019 to 2,750 in 2020, showing a 33 percent decrease. Total online verification was 9,723. During the period, the agency detained 15 ships for various infractions, in line with its regulatory mandate.
There was the formation of the Nigerian Maritime Industry Working Group (NIWG) comprising NIMASA, Federal Ministry of Transportation, Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Ports Authority, Marine Police, Interpol, stakeholders in the Oil Industry, as well as the Nigerian Shipowners’ Association. The group was set up to facilitate coordination between government and the industry, and also align efforts to deter and respond to incidents of piracy and armed robbery in Nigerian territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This is the first coordinated effort between stakeholders in the industry and the federal government to address the issue of insecurity in the country’s maritime environment.
The agency issued 132 Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) certificates of competency to seafarers in 2020. In view of the need to enhance the safety of seafarers during the period of the COVID-19 lockdown, NIMASA extended the period of validation of all seafarers’ certificates, as well as ship certificates to October 1, 2020, to enable those with expired certificates to keep their jobs pending renewal of their certificates.
For 2021, the first component of Triple “S”, security, is firmly on the ground with the official launch of the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure, otherwise known as the Deep Blue Project, by President Muhammadu Buhari on June 10, 2021. Full deployment of all the assets of the project is ongoing. There is going to be continuation and conclusion of foreign training, as well as localization of training of personnel for the project, in addition to terrain familiarization.
Going forward from now and covering 2022, NIMASA is engaged in the Floating Dock Project which it is partnering with NPA to execute. This is a multi-million dollar floating dock that NIMASA bought, which could not be put to immediate use due to lack of appropriate location, but which was has been warehoused at the Navy’s dockyard. An agreement with NPA will see NIMASA using the former’s Continental Shipyard which would serve as a functional location for what is expected to be a sustainable and profitable venture. The floating dock will become operational any moment from now, and it will have a huge impact on the maritime industry and the nation’s economy.
There is an understanding with international oil companies to use the facility, with the huge economic benefits of massive employment opportunities, training of seafarers, as well as generation of income for the Federal Government. This is going to be followed by the ship-building leg of the project, to enable an expansion of the building and repairs capacity of local ship owners.
There is also the Blue Economy Project involving various critical industry players, stakeholders, and partnerships with the littoral states of Bayelsa, Lagos, Delta, Ondo, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, and Ogun.
Other planned projects are wreck removal across the country’s waters, whether brown or blue; foundry for recycling wrecks in partnership with Nigerian Railways Corporation and the Bayelsa State government, and opening of the state’s NIMASA Office.
The agency also plans to expand the impact of the recently established Maritime Intelligence Unit; award more National Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) scholarships with the requisite sea time training for our youths; continuation of our COVID-19 intervention as well as the agency’s corporate social responsibility intervention in support of internally displaced persons (IDPs) across more than 26 States, as well as appointment and training of marine litter marshals.
The agency will commence the placement of 351 cadets onboard vessels for sea time training with various Maritime Training Institutions (MTIs); registration of 689 cadets with various Maritime Administrations for CoC examination, as well as recruitment of 300 new intakes into the NSDP 3 Scheme, among many other activities.
One thing is certain, that the NIMASA ship, under my watch, will keep sailing both with the winds and against the winds till we reach our desired port of destination of maritime security, safety, and shipping development – The Triple S, for that, is our Performance Tripod.
Dr Bashir Jamoh can be reached on Instagram: @bashirjamoh, Facebook: Bashir Jamoh