Steps to enhance Nigeria’s blue economyOctober 7, 2021
Bashir Jamoh, director-general and CEO of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), talks to The Energy Year about how the agency fosters the country’s blue economy and its dynamic approach to ensuring maritime security. NIMASA is responsible for regulations and promotions related to Nigerian shipping, maritime labour and coastal waters.
What steps has NIMASA taken to draw up a roadmap for enhancing Nigeria’s blue economy?
The maritime sector is the bedrock of the Nigerian economy. In recent decades, the nation has relied on crude for revenue, becoming a mono-economy. Interestingly, before the ‘70s oil boom, agriculture was our economic mainstay, with ground nuts, cocoa, rubber and cotton as key sources of revenue. Yet these areas were abandoned after we discovered “black gold.”
From 2012, we started talking about increasing the sustainability of our own blue economy. Nigeria has a coastline of around 853 kilometres and a huge deposit of resources that we could utilise to enhance this economy. This does not mean we should stop exploiting oil and gas. However, we need to look for alternative sources of income, and this is where our blue economy comes into play.
Nigeria is now working to develop its own blue economy roadmap through a series of sustained and strategic engagements with relevant stakeholders in the blue economy. These include maritime actors in the shipping or fishing ambit, for example, experts in the nautical realm and policy makers, amongst others. At the same time, we are also including eight Nigerian littoral states in this scheme, trying to identify their comparative advantages – be those in tourism, fishing, ship recycling, ship building or ship repair – in order to partner with them and develop this added value.
What particular programmes have been set forth to advance the country’s blue economy?
Advances are being made slowly but surely in the marine sector. In April 2021, the first consolidated wreck removal was granted. The three agencies under the Ministry of Transportation – namely, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), NIMASA and Nigerian Inland Waterways – have under their mandate the responsibility to remove wrecks from our territorial waters.
Most wrecks are large sized, which makes things complex. The first stage in the removal plan includes taking over a foundry owned by the Nigerian Railway Corporation which is old and technologically outdated. We are in talks with the Bayelsa State Government to see how we can fund the resuscitation of this foundry and thereby create employment. The idea behind this is that when we remove the wreck, we will take it to the foundry and process it to raw materials for the railway sector and also use some spare parts for the ship building and repair industry.
Another important issue is the resuscitation and revival of the fishing industry. We are trying to achieve a system like the Canadian one where they have their own local consumption and export. We are now working with several states to see how we can improve or provide better infrastructure and facilities for fishing trawlers, which will strengthen the fishing industry as a whole. This sector used to be on top in terms of government revenue, but due to maritime insecurity it has lost importance.
What are some of the obstacles and successes in Nigeria’s maritime security?
Unfortunately, maritime insecurity is very prominent in Nigeria. Security is a matter that ought to be taken seriously in order to eradicate pirate attacks and unauthorised fishing in our territorial waters. For years, Nigeria’s maritime security has faced an array of challenges. One of the major hurdles is the inability to effectively respond to attacks due to the lack of infrastructure and platforms [security intervention assets]. However, this problem dates back to 1994 when Nigeria sent its ships and platforms to assist in fighting the Liberian war. By the time they were back, the continuous usage and lack of maintenance had caused them to deteriorate. Thus, our quasi-fleet extinction triggered our inability to police and monitor our own waters.
Furthermore, the government decided to tackle the issue through policy intervention via a project called COMOROS, which was subsequently upgraded to PICOMSS [Presidential Intervention Committee on Maritime Safety and Security] to see how they could provide platforms to police our waters. The mandate of PICOMSS was given to NNPC, NPA and NIMASA to provide funding but the lack of management led to the cancellation of this project. Another policy intervention was set in place a few years back through a PPP with a company called Global West, providing 25 platforms. This contract stipulated that the company would supply, operate and transfer the platforms for a period of 10 years. After major setbacks, these platforms are now under litigation.
Finally, in 2017 NIMASA signed a contract with an Israel-based company, HLSI, to provide the Deep Blue Project (DBP). The DBP includes the provision of two special mission vessels, three special mission helicopters, two special mission aircraft, 17 interceptor boats and 16 special mission vehicles that we now keep in the creeks. These areas are very difficult to access so with these assets we can gather information and data which are fed into our Command Control Computer Centre Intelligence System (C4i). The C4i collects all the data and analyses it to determine its appropriate usage.
In addition to this, we also have four unmanned craft that collect information and send it to C4I. As of today, all the assets are in Nigeria ready for us to use, and we expect to launch the scheme in May 2021.
What approach is NIMASA taking to maritime security?
Our approach to maritime security has traditionally been reactive. When there is an attack, the corresponding vessel will contact the platforms so that they can react. Today, we have radically changed our tack by adopting a proactive approach. This is done by studying the behaviour of these criminals. Interestingly enough, there are not more than 1,200 pirates who seem to be holding the whole world to ransom. To get to the root of the matter, we have established a maritime intelligence unit to better comprehend how to tackle this issue.
There are three legs to criminals’ operations. First is the pre-planning stage where they indoctrinate the unemployed youth, those that are vulnerable. From there, they train them and move on to the planning stage. This second stage is where they decide where, how and why to attack a vessel: it could be either to take the cargo or to kidnap the personnel. The third stage is the attack itself. Once they carry out their attack, it becomes difficult for one to address the issue and that is when we react through our platforms. These criminal syndicates have to be dismantled by targeting the brains and leaders.
In addition to that, we are introducing the carrot and stick model. The stick is the assets that we are deploying. When a criminal is arrested, the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Crimes (SPOMO) Act 2019 makes sure the individual is judged and sentenced accordingly. It serves as a deterrent to other criminal elements who are still engaged in nefarious activities on our waterways.
As for the carrot, for those criminals who are willing to come back to normal life, we are ready to establish a skill acquisition centre for them to learn and ultimately contribute to the economy. We even provide a kind of scholarship called the CPRS development programme, which provides individuals with the option to study maritime-related courses abroad so that they can come back and continue to develop the maritime industry.
What regional efforts are being made to reduce insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea (GOG)?
The waters of the Gulf of Guinea are vast and cannot be manned by one country alone. We have to understand that this is a regional problem, not a Nigerian one. The international community is worried about the way in which their vessels are being attacked when approaching these waters and they are willing to offer assistance in terms of vessels, training and navy support. Presently, we have Portugal, France, Italy and Denmark willing to deploy assets. Some of them already have their ships in the GOG, but initiatives should really come from us actors in the region to create a common framework from which we can all operate.
In this regard, the SHADE framework was sealed on April 26, as a regional arrangement between the ICC [Inter Regional Coordination Centre], the Nigerian navy and NIMASA. SHADE focuses on countering piracy and armed robbery by bringing together regional, international, industry and NGO partners to co-ordinate maritime activities. The intention is to work with our seven regional counterparts (G7) toward a set of common operational objectives to protect seafarers and ships operating off the coast of West and Central Africa. We are already reaping the fruits of this scheme – months ago we recorded six attacks in a week but today we are recording a number of weeks without attacks. It is a step in the right direction.
What role does NIMASA play in ensuring regulations and standards are respected?
The oil and gas industry cannot operate without ships. NIMASA is the regulator – we are the ones that register the ships and check their viability to move from one destination to another; we take care of flag and labour issues, as well as security and safety matters. The right to move is thus granted by us but we also ensure regulations are in place to ensure conformity with certain safety and shipping guidelines.
Furthermore, we are the focal point as far as the International Maritime Organization [IMO] is concerned for anything that concerns shipping. In other words, we are the custodian of all convention regulations regarding the ILO [International Labour Organization] and the IMO. Consequently, from time to time, we have to interface with the IOCs to ensure compliance with regards to the issue of transportation of cargo from one destination to another, from Nigeria to any part of the world.
For instance, despite the IMO banning single-hull ships and tankers, there were still ships in Nigeria that had a single haul. We banned them in December 2020 and today, ship recertification will be declined for a single-hull ship. Hence, oil companies in these conditions will have to conform because they cannot engage a single-hull vessel.
How important is the Cabotage Law when it comes to upgrading a locally based marine sector?
The Cabotage Law is elemental to our industry. It has four pillars: the ship must be built in Nigeria, the ownership must be Nigerian, the workers should also be Nigerian and finally, the registration must be Nigerian. From here, both indigenous and international companies have a set of rules, guidelines and standards for operating. For example, if an IOC is seeking the services of a ship, it must first give priority to local shipping companies with the required specification, over foreign ones. Only in the case of there being no local company available to cater for those services can the IOC apply for a waiver.
Further, the issue of equity in terms of IOCs and the local companies also depends on the nature of the operation. If you are doing an international operation, there is no limitation on that, but when you have a local operation, we have an act established that guides that trade and you must conform with it.
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